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Environmentalists, Covanta Square Off On Expansion of 56th Street Incinerator

By Mike Hudson

On online petition aimed at rallying opposition to the expansion of the Covanta Niagara waste to energy incinerator has been gaining steam, and supporters promise further action to halt a project they say will further hurt the quality of life in Niagara Falls.

"COVANTA NIAGARA is one of the largest waste incineration operations in the U.S.," the petition states.

"Covanta proposes to import and incinerate NYC garbage in Niagara Falls, NY and Chester, PA. Chester has a population one-third lower than the City of Niagara Falls and poverty rate more than 35 percent higher. Currently, only Covanta Newark, NJ burns a large amount of New York City garbage. About 20 percent of Covanta Niagara waste is dumped in Niagara County landfills as ash.

"Do you want New York City garbage burned and dumped here for 30 years?

"Mercury, arsenic, benzene, dioxin and carbon monoxide in the air? Higher taxes and waste disposal costs? Depressing property values, population, jobs? Trains rumbling at any hour of the night?

"Welcome to the website we hope will inform and empower you."

Opposition to the project is mounting as environmental groups and political hopefuls like Amy Hope Witryol organize.

For its part, Covanta is firing back, in the way that only a multimillion-dollar, multinational corporation with a highly paid public relations department can.

A recent news release states that Covanta Niagara supports more than 550 jobs in the area, and that no hazardous waste is being burned at the plant. Furthermore, the company claims that it has no plans to bring in any more than the 825,000 tons of waste currently permitted.

But opponents ask why, if that is the case, the company is currently spending $30 million to expand its 56thStreet facility.

In July, Covanta went ahead and started construction at the site prior to receiving approval from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. A fine, amounting to a measly $67,500, was paid after the installation of a massive, 190-foot smokestack.

That was more than offset by $8 million in tax breaks granted by the county Industrial Development Agency for the expansion.

Witryol and other opponents of the expansion bitterly criticized the IDA decision.

"It seems premature to support these projects without knowing the impact on public health," said Witryol. She said Covanta burns industrial and medical waste and asserted that there would be "no jobs retained or created because of the $8 million in proposed giveaways."

The DEC also issued a warning letter to company officials last week, warning them against using the name of the state agency in its publicity about the relative benefits of the expansion.

DEC attorney Maureen A. Brady was to the point.

"The use of the DEC's name is likely to cause confusion to the general public and is not appropriate because Covanta is regulated by the DEC," she wrote. "The webpage implies that the DEC has approved of the webpage content by encouraging visitors to contact the DEC for verification of Covanta's assertions. The DEC was not asked by Covanta whether its name could be used in this manner, and would not have approved if asked."

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, the company paid a $400,000 fine after its burn plant sent dangerous dioxins into the air. It was the second time the Connecticut plant has been fined for dioxin emissions, which would seem to lend credibility to the environmental groups opposing the Niagara Falls expansion.

The controversy is likely to drag into the summer as Witryol and other environmentalists become more organized. They will have to do so without the aid of out self professed "green" mayor, Paul Dyster, who has been strangely silent on the issue.

His right hand man, senior planner Tom DeSantis, is an ardent supporter of Covanta Niagara expansion and made a mysterious trip to Dusseldorf, Germany where Covanta Niagara models its garbage burning facility.

Unlike Dusseldorf, where the garbage burning is used to give free electricity to the people, Covanta Niagara sells the electricity generated to other industrial companies at market rates.

To sign the online petition opposing the expansion, go to http://stopburningthefalls.com and follow instructions.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 18, 2014