NIAGARA FALLS – Residents concerned about the planned expansion of a waste-to-energy facility in the city want to meet with Mayor Paul A. Dyster to discuss the issue.
About 20 people gathered at a news conference late Wednesday afternoon to call on the mayor to sit down and talk about Covanta Niagara’s plan to add rail access that will allow it to bring in garbage from New York City.
Standing roughly 50 yards from the facility’s main entrance on 56th Street near Frontier Avenue, the group also called for a cumulative-impact study of all facilities in the area that have state and federal permits to release contaminants into the air.
Holding signs that said “Mayor Dyster: Is this development?” and “Niagara Falls is not a garbage dump,” several speakers raised questions about the potential effects of the company’s proposal, which still requires state approval.
Shirley Hamilton, a city resident and president of the Niagara Falls branch of the NAACP, said she remembers back when the city didn’t have artificial mountains of landfilled garbage.
“What really disturbs me is the fact that our city officials and our state entities would allow thousands of tons of more garbage to be railed into this community from New York City,” Hamilton said.
Covanta Niagara already has the city’s permission to add rail access to its facility, which burns waste to create steam and electricity and emits a variety of pollutants into the air.
Under a $2.8 billion agreement announced in August, Covanta Niagara and another Covanta facility in Pennsylvania will accept municipal waste from New York City for at least the next 20 years, scheduled to begin early in 2015.
The Niagara Falls facility is already permitted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to accept up to 800,000 tons of waste per year, but does so now by truck. The company’s current proposal does not seek to increase the total amount of waste in can bring in.
The city needs to have more control over how Covanta’s project may impact it in the future, said Amy H. Witryol of Lewiston, a retired banker who has been active in waste disposal issues locally.
The company has touted its rail-access proposal as a way to reduce truck traffic in the area.
Witryol said she is concerned the company is building itself enough rail capacity that would allow it to become a transfer station and haul even more waste here in the future, including off of trains and onto trucks to ship elsewhere.
Covanta spokesman James Regan said the company has never expressed a desire to do so, and currently has no such plans.
Any such proposal would require additional permission from the state.
Witryol said she wants assurances from the company in writing about it, which it thus far has been unwilling to do.
The city also should look into the possibility of reaching some type of host community agreement with Covanta, which it has in place in other communities that are home to its facilities, Witryol said. Under such a deal, the company would provide some type of financial compensation based on its waste-related activities.
In a related matter, residents also have asked state regulators for further action they say impacts the day-to-day operation of the facility.
An on-site, environmental monitor position - employed by the state DEC and paid for by Covanta - has been vacant for several months.
Hamilton and Witryol, along with Falls resident Christopher Kudela, in a Sept. 25 letter asked the agency to expedite the process for filling the position.
Dyster could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.