By a 3-2 vote the Lackawanna City Council Monday night went on record as favoring a proposed tire-burning energy plant if certain additional conditions are met.
It was the first time the Council has voted on the project, which has sparked considerable controversy. Opponents immediately attacked the action.
Fourth Ward Councilman Marion M. Druzbik, long considered the swing vote on the otherwise evenly divided Council, introduced the resolution putting the Council on record as favoring the proposed $100 million project.
Druzbik said he did a good deal of soul searching over more than a year before deciding the plant proposed by Oxford Energy Co. would be good for the city.
He said no one factor tipped the scales, but the need for the financially strapped city to increase its tax base "was certainly a factor."
Druzbik was supported by Council President Edward D. Tokarz and 1st Ward Councilman George W. Halsey III. Councilmen Leonard A. Woyshner of the 3rd Ward and Robert J. Lohr of the 2nd Ward, who have both opposed the project almost from the start, voted no.
Council approval, under Druzbik's resolution, is dependent on the project being approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and three additional conditions posed by Druzbik:
A system whereby city residents could dispose of old tires at no charge.
Oxford, through Erie Energy Associates, the local subsidiary, providing in-house fire-protection training and a $250,000 fund over eight years to stabilize manpower levels in the Fire Department.
Seeking a way to help the city lower its electric bill.
The conditions are admittedly vague, Druzbik said, especially helping the city reduce its current $600,000 a-year-electric bill. Because the plant will produce electricity, it might be possible to find a way so the city can purchase power at a reduced rate, he said.
The $250,000 would be used to avert further layoffs among firefighters, Druzbik said.
Oxford officials could not be reached to comment Monday night but Druzbik said they are aware of the conditions and told him they would consider them.
The vote is significant because the Council will have to decide if the project is consistent with the city's waterfront development plan. That vote won't take place unless the DEC determines the plant will meet environmental regulations. That process is going on now.
Druzbik said the city has had only limited success attracting new business and the Council "must send a clear message that new companies, especially high- technology companies, are welcome. I want to start that process tonight."
Woyshner said he thinks the resolution "has no merit" because the DEC must make its decision first. Lohr questioned whether the city will get all the financial benefits it might out of the project since much of the equipment will be tax-exempt pollution-control gear.
Finance Director Robert Dombrowski said the $18 million Oxford would pay to the city, county and school district over 26 years is more than it would be required to.
Passage of the resolution met with applause from supporters but was attacked immediately by opponents.
"This is unbelievable what you're doing," said resident Joseph DiCenzo, who also said the city isn't getting all the financial benefits it might.
"They're getting away cheap. Why should the city guarantee Oxford's profits?" he said.
Robert Hurd, president of Citizens for Lackawanna's Future, told the Council, "You've just declared open season on yourselves for the next election."
Another member of the group, Andrea Haxton, said, "Health is more important than money." She told Halsey he is ignoring a poll of First Ward residents by the group that showed a majority oppose the project.