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As surprising as it may be for some Western New Yorkers to learn that a massive trash-burning incinerator is converting garbage to energy within the City of Niagara Falls, a new plan to import garbage from New York City appears to be a net gain.

Covanta Energy operates the incinerator on 56th Street and has applied for tax incentives as part of a $30 million expansion project.

The project includes a $7 million steam pipeline to the new Greenpac paper mill, a natural gas-fired boiler to back up the garbage incinerator that produces the steam, a rail transfer station to accept the trash from Manhattan and a special waste-handling facility to prepare the garbage for burning.

The advantages of this project are several, and include the addition of 23 jobs – paying up to $100,000 a year – to Covanta’s current workforce of 86. In addition, the deal to take New York City’s garbage, which will arrive by train, will mean the end of a deal with Toronto, which shipped garbage by truck, adding to traffic congestion on city streets and over the border.

That’s a significant change. About 300 trucks a day deliver waste to Covanta, which burns about 800,000 tons a year. Some 60 percent of the trash is trucked from Canada, an amount that will be drastically reduced as Manhattan’s municipal waste is brought in through the new rail siding.

“We regarded that as a net improvement,” said Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster. “This would reduce traffic on the international bridges, which we think is important. … We’re big fans of the expansion of the rail network.”

The expansion project will also require construction of a pipeline nearly a mile long and 24 inches in diameter to deliver energy produced by burning the trash to the new Greenpac plant. Covanta also supplies steam to help power the industrial processes at five other plants: Occidental Chemical, Niacet Corp., Praxair, Goodyear and Norampac, the parent company of Greenpac.

Covanta is seeking public incentives for its project. It has asked for a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, arrangement on the value of its expansion. It also wants an exemption from sales taxes on building materials and equipment for the expansion, and an exemption from having to pay mortgage recording tax on the land deal.

The savings to Covanta would total almost $8 million over 15 years, while the payroll for the newly created jobs would be about $2 million a year, or $30 million over the same 15-year period. Covanta’s current payroll is $8.9 million a year.

This is a deal that looks promising but that requires close examination of all the potential impacts, including financial and environmental. Niagara Falls needs the jobs, but officials there must be sure the tradeoffs are acceptable.