Jun 16, 2014 Allie Wenner Uncategorized
The clock is ticking towards the expiration of a contract between Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency and Covanta Energy regarding the incinerator on Rock Cut Road in Jamesville.
That contract is done in 2015 – and the Onondaga County Legislature is paying attention. On June 9, legislators on the Ways and Means and Environmental Protection Committees held a public hearing for any residents interested in commenting on the draft scoping document for “Ash for Trash,” a proposed solid waste partnership with Cortland County, at DeWitt Town Hall.
“We’re at the very beginning of the process and we want to hear from you, the folks from the community here, which surrounds the waste-to-energy facility,” said Dave Knapp, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. “This is a long process and we’re at the very beginning of it – that’s why we want to hear from everyone.”
Ash for Trash would allow Cortland County to bring its 25,000 tons of trash each year to the incinerator, and, in exchange, Onondaga County could deposit its 90,000 tons of ash, produced yearly by the waste-to-energy facility, in Cortland County’s landfill.
This idea could boost the economy in both Cortland County, whose landfill has been losing money, and in Onondaga County, where the incinerator lost about $6 million between 2009 and 2011, according to OCCRA’s website.
A skeptical public
Each of the dozen people who spoke at the meeting was against Ash for Trash and nearly everyone asked that the legislature consider extending the comment period for the draft scoping document, which began on May 14 and was set to close June 14.
“This is a major community decision – this is like interstate 81,” said Don Hughes, who lives on Syracuse’s east side. “It’s a big deal. We need way more time.”
Several residents were frustrated by the county’s decision to only include one option in the document – continuing incineration with the Ash for Trash proposal. Across the country, incineration is becoming less popular in part due to concerns over the consistency and adequacy of air pollution controls, according to the Sustainable Sanitation and Water Management Toolbox.
“Is there anything we can do to get you to look in another direction and think outside the box?” said Vicki Baker, a former county legislator and Jamesville resident. “Recycle, repair, compost – that’s where our emphasis should be. We should be looking at alternatives. I saw no alternatives in the document other than ‘no action.’”
Other residents spoke about how they felt betrayed by the legislature, which passed a law back in 1992 that bans non- Onondaga County waste from being brought in-county to the waste-to-energy facility. In order for Ash for Trash to happen, Onondaga County would be required to modify its existing solid waste management plan and submit it to the Department of Environmental Conservation for approval. To do that, the legislature would have to either make an exemption to the existing law or potentially change the law altogether.
Jamesville resident Dennis Payne said he remembers the Citizens’ Advisory and Offsite Monitoring Committees, safeguards that were put in place by the legislature when the incinerator first began operation which have since been eliminated. He doesn’t want to see the final safeguard, the ban of non-Onondaga County waste, removed as well.
“Now, in what is potentially an unprecedented act of betrayal, the legislature is deciding whether to shrug off the health and safety concerns of the county residents who live around the incinerator,” Payne said. “Why should the people of the county trust you on any issue? Not just concerning the incinerator, but any issue that involves the well-being of the people of Clay, or Van Buren, or Manlius, or Skaneateles?”
In the end, it all comes down to money. Since the economic downturn in 2008, trash levels in Onondaga County have gone down. According to OCCRA, the incinerator currently processes about 315,000 tons of trash each year while it has the capacity to process up to 361,000 tons each year. An additional 25,000 tons from Cortland County would bring operations back up to 97 percent capacity, which is ideal.
“Shutting a boiler down or running it at a low capacity is inefficient and expensive,” said OCCRA Public Information Officer Kristen Lawton. “So the idea is that you always want to run very close to your capacity to be operationally efficient.”
Lawton suggested that if OCRRA cannot come to an agreement with Covanta, the facility could be turned over to Covanta for full ownership. If the incinerator were to become privately owned, the county legislature would have no say in where trash can be imported from. Although an agreement with Cortland County would make a contract renewal more appealing to Covanta, many residents feel that stepping away from incineration all together is the best option.
“Covanta is a New York Stock Exchange, publically-traded corporation,” said DeWitt resident Jane Gershaw. “I believe they will do almost anything to make money for their stockholders. It is to them that [Covanta] is responsible, not the communities where they work… In the end, they’re a corporation. To believe that they care about you or me is to engage in a fantasy that has no foundation.”
The legislature plans to hold more meetings this summer and fall for members of the public to voice their opinions and ask questions. Following the meeting, the legislature did not take any action to extend the public comment period for the scoping document.
For more information on Ash for Trash, visit bartonandloguidice.com/cortlandonondagapartnership/.