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NIAGARA FALLS – Efforts to control a rat problem around the Covanta Niagara incinerator have begun, with the company paying more than $150,000 for baiting and cleanups.

Covanta spokesman James Regan said the company’s exterminator believes that the rats came from sewers on Buffalo Avenue, where they were disturbed by road and sewer reconstruction work.

The same theory was offered last month by Dennis F. Virtuoso, the city’s chief building inspector.

“I don’t believe the construction company baited the sewers before they opened them up,” resident Rhonda Gross said. “And the sound of jackhammers scared them out of the holes.”

But Covanta, whose incinerator burns garbage to produce electricity and steam, is picking up the tab for the extermination effort by Orkin Pest Control, which was hired on a one-year contract.

“Our neighbors are important to our future,” said Regan. Covanta is planning a major expansion project, including construction of a rail siding that will allow it to bring in New York City garbage by train for burning.

Asked if Covanta would be paying for the rat control if not for the expansion project, Regan said, “I don’t think the two are connected at all.”

“Covanta stepped up to the plate big-time,” county Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said. “They have the bait ready to go. The exterminator will be living on-site the first couple of weeks, to do the baiting from sunup to sundown.”

Regan said baiting began Thursday in alleys and fields, and in residential yards with the owners’ permission.

Niagara County Environmental Health Director James J. Devald told the Board of Health Thursday that the rat poison is being deposited in an area bounded roughly by 56th and 59th streets and Stephenson and Buffalo avenues.

Last weekend, Covanta provided Dumpsters for a major neighborhood cleanup. Gross said the city sent payloaders to shove trash out of alleys, while prisoners from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office work program also picked things up.

Residents also took part, Virtuoso said. The cleanup will continue this weekend.

“It’ll make it a lot easier for the Orkin people to do their job,” Virtuoso said.

Gross said last weekend’s work “created a giant pile of garbage” that city crews have been hauling away all week.

“The Dumpsters are still here, and my neighbors are still filling them,” Gross said.

Devald said, “Most of these are manicured yards. The people take care of their properties. But it only takes one or two houses in a neighborhood [to cause a problem].”

Gross said three abandoned sheds that became rat hotels were demolished, and plans are afoot to mow a field owned by the state Department of Transportation between Stephenson and Frontier avenues that has become a rat hangout.

“With the weather getting colder, the rats are going to be looking for a place to go in, so we’ve got to take care of this now,” Stapleton said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com