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Niagara Falls Planning Board grants 11-month extension to Covanta for expansion of incinerator facility

NIAGARA FALLS – Covanta Niagara, which is planning to bring in hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage every year from New York City, on Wednesday night got an 11-month extension from the city to complete a $30 million expansion of its incinerator facility.

The city Planning Board approved Covanta’s plans – which include adding railroad access in order to haul the waste here by train – in November 2012. But that approval expired last June, and the company did not come to the city until December to ask for more time.

The board granted the extension by a 5-0 vote, with two board members abstaining from the vote saying they did not have enough time to review information related to the proposal. The two members who abstained, Lisa A. Vitello and Robert J. Kazeangin Jr., also noted that they were not on the board at the time the issue arose in 2012.

Amy H. Witryol of Lewiston, a retired banker who studies waste-disposal issues, asked the board to at least put off a decision on the extension because of concerns by her and a group of residents, some of whom live near the Covanta site.

Witryol said this point provided a chance for the city to revisit the project. “If this administration believes that the image of importing New York City garbage to Niagara Falls is in the best interest of its citizens, we may disagree,” she said, “but there’s much more to evaluate here than that decision.”

Planning Board Chairman Richard D. Smith – who acknowledged during the meeting that the board hadn’t had a chance to fully review Witryol’s written submissions, including two letters from an attorney representing the group – said that there were no changes to the company’s site plan and that the board had already done the necessary review of the project.

Steven J. Ricca, an attorney representing Covanta from the firm of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel, said the company has been continuously moving ahead with work at the facility since gaining approval from the board. Some of that work has been costly environmental cleanup of the site, as well as the purchase of specialized containers for waste transport, which he said was to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Thomas J. DeSantis, the city’s senior planner and acting economic-development director, said the board has the authority to grant an extension, even if the request was not made before the initial 18-month period expired. All the board had to consider was whether the request was justifiable, DeSantis said.

Covanta’s facility, which produces steam and electricity in addition to emitting pollutants into the air, presently hauls in waste to its facility at 56th Street and Frontier Avenue by truck.

Witryol, who also asked for the decision to be put off so there could be more time for public input, said documents submitted by the company to the state Department of Environmental Conservation last year included some information not considered by the Planning Board before it made its November 2012 decision that the project would not have a “significant adverse environmental impact.”

Witryol said she believed that some of that information was not going to be considered by state regulators and was up to the city to review.

During the meeting, Vitello said she wished that there were more time to read what was submitted and asked whether there was any problem with putting off a vote. Smith responded by saying the company’s request was only for more time and wasn’t making any changes to the previously approved plans.