Niagara Gazette — A company that operates a waste-to-energy incinerator in Niagara Falls is moving forward with a proposed $30 million expansion project that would involve development of a rail transfer station capable of accepting garbage by the ton from New York City.
Covanta Energy, which operates out of a facility on 56th Street, received approval for a site plan tied to its proposed expansion from the city's planning board Wednesday evening.
"It's a good project," Planning Board Chairman Rick Smith said following Wednesday's meeting. "I wouldn't pass anything that I didn't think was beneficial to the city."
The board's decision came several hours after officials from Covanta submitted an application for financial assistance for their project to the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
The project was met with enthusiasm from planning board members and NCIDA officials who welcomed the dozens of construction jobs and 20 permanent, full-time jobs the expansion is expected to create.
"It's all good, good, good," said NCIDA Chairman Henry Sloma following the board's decision to accept Covanta's application for assistance and set a public hearing on the project.
Environmental advocates, including those who have been instrumental in an ongoing battle to prevent expansion of CWM Chemical Services hazardous waste landfill in the Town of Porter, were far less enthusiastic. They expressed concerns that the rail aspect of Covanta's plan could result in a sharp increase in the amount of trash being delivered to the Falls, thus further diminishing the environment in Niagara County as well as the community's overall appeal.
Covanta's existing facility at 100 Energy Blvd. off 56th Street makes steam for a half dozen nearby chemical and industrial operations. During a presentation for members of the NCIDA board of directors on Wednesday, Covanta business manager Kevin O'Neill said the company burns 800,000 tons of garbage a year to help meet power demands of businesses including Occidental, Goodyear, Praxair, Niacet and Norampac.
O'Neill said his firm has struck a deal to pipe steam to a new liner board plant being built off Packard Road by a Norampac affiliate known as Greenpac. Under the 12-year contract, O'Neill said the company would install a 24-inch pipe, almost a mile in length to accommodate Greenpac's needs. In addition, O'Neill said the expansion project would allow Covanta, which currently isn't meeting 100 percent of its customers' steam needs, to increase capacity overall.
Other elements of the proposed project include:
• construction of a rail transfer facility to take garbage from New York City by rail.
• Installation of the 24-inch steam and condensate lines tying into the Greenpac at an estimated cost of $7.5 million.
• construction of a $10.5 million gas-fired steam boiler to service Greenpac and any new industries that might locate at adjacent brownfield.
• development of a $5.6 million "special waste" recycling and processing facility to prepare converted by Covanta.
O'Neill indicated that the rail portion of the project would help reduce the amount of trucks coming in now mostly from Canada, which he estimated at 300 per day. The new facility would be built on brownfield land currently held by Praxair and would involve an investment of about $10 million for property cleanup and facility construction. O'Neill said Covanta is finalizing a contract with NYC to ship its waste for 30 years.
All together, Covanta estimates that the project would lead to creation of 20 new jobs, in manufacturing, offering salaries of up to $100,000 per year. Company officials indicated that the expansion would offer construction jobs for roughly 160 workers as well.
Mayor Paul Dyster said his administration views the proposal as a "net improvement" for the city. He believes expanding the rail network as proposed will result in less truck traffic on international bridges and local roads, thus reducing the number of garbage trucks traveling in the area.
"I think this is generally regarded as a green process so long as it is done in accordance with strict standards," he said.
Covanta has asked the NCIDA for a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with sales, mortgage tax exemption and property tax relief. The proposed PILOT would save Covanta $6.9 million in property tax over 15 years, plus $760,000 sales tax and $310,000 mortgage recording tax.
Covanta's current assessment is $44.4 million with its annual tax bill currently pegged at $887,000.
In accepting the application, NCIDA officials set a public hearing on the project for 3:45 p.m., Jan. 4, at Niagara Falls City Hall, 745 Main St.