By Amy H. Witryol
Recent Buffalo News editorial support for bringing New York City garbage to the City of Niagara Falls for incineration at Covanta Niagara LLP was, perhaps, premature.
Niagara County is already the No. 1 destination in New York for waste. It is also the No. 1 destination for campaign donations from the waste industry.
Covanta Niagara operates the second-largest waste incinerator of 10 operating in New York State.
Last year, 23 percent or 186,000 tons of medical, industrial and municipal waste burned at Covanta Niagara went to already overburdened landfills in Niagara Falls and Lewiston.
Covanta has applied to the Niagara County IDA for an $8 million, 15-year tax waiver. However, Niagara Falls receives neither the tens of millions in cash nor the discounts many incineration operators pay for the privilege.
The IDA application covers three projects at the incineration facility.
Project No. 1: Rail access. Covanta asserts that New York City garbage by rail will replace Toronto garbage coming here by truck. However, Toronto trucks will decline, regardless, due to a new Covanta incinerator in Ontario.
Rail access would bring waste from much longer distances, drive up our own disposal costs and further an already dismal recycling rate in New York City that is half the national average.
Niagara County residents can also be concerned that nationwide, Covanta operates landfills and transfer stations that put thousands of trucks on local roads. Without an agreement, Niagara Falls approval for rail access last week leaves us exposed to this in the future.
Project No. 2: A new 190-foot-high smokestack with a gas-fired burner. This is not merely a “backup,” but added burning capacity to supply steam to a new paper mill. Rail is not required for Covanta to supply steam to the mill or existing customers.
Project No. 3: A “special waste” processing facility. What is “special waste”? No one knows yet, but it is a key corporate objective, per company reports.
In contrast to other municipalities, we’re told there are no agreements with Covanta giving Niagara Falls additional approval authority for future waste volume, truck volume or mix of waste actually burned as opposed to “permitted.” The decision now belongs to only the company and the state.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation must also approve rail access and a variety of other permits for Covanta.
The City of Niagara Falls did not conduct hearings on its recent rail access approval, making it even more important for the DEC to provide that opportunity to residents and others affected by Covanta during state permitting.
As for the $8 million in IDA tax breaks, a public hearing is set for 3:45 p.m. Jan. 4 at Niagara Falls City Hall.
Amy H. Witryol of Lewiston ran for the 62nd State Senate seat this year.