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DEC slammed for short comment period for Covanta Niagara proposal

NIAGARA FALLS — The amount of time state environmental regulators have given the public to weigh in on Covanta Niagara’s plans to haul in New York City garbage by train falls short of what the opportunity should be, according to some community members.

Covanta Niagara, a waste-to-energy facility that burns garbage to produce steam and electricity, has asked the Department of Environmental Conservation for permission to add rail access to its facility, located at 56th Street and Frontier Avenue. At present, the plant brings in waste by truck.

Amy H. Witryol, a retired banker from Lewiston who has studied waste-disposal issues, said the agency “was irresponsible” in giving the public 15 days to digest and respond to the proposal.

“This has the appearance of the DEC trying to sneak this by the public,” Witryol said, “and a responsible regulator would have thoroughly looked at the issues being raised, the resources of the effected community and considered what would be reasonable and necessary in its views for the public to analyze and comment on the proposal.”

The Buffalo News contacted the agency’s press office in Albany on Thursday but received no response to questions.

The deadline to submit comments to the agency is Oct. 9.

Covanta Niagarawon a $2.8 billion, up-to-30-year contract last year that would see it ship New York City garbage to the Falls plant and another facility in Pennsylvania. Between 300,000 and 500,000 tons of municipal waste from New York City would arrive in the Falls annually.

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Covanta officials have previously said they hoped to begin the shipping early next year.

The company says the new method for hauling in garbage would result in a decline in truck traffic from haulers now carrying waste here via local streets. Existing limits on the total amount of waste the facility could bring in would not change under current proposals.

When the company sought permission from the state early last year to clean up some of the land where the rail access would be built, the agency granted a 45-day comment period.

James F. Regan, a Covanta spokesman, said the company’s current projections anticipate about 300,000 tons of New York City garbage would be delivered per year to Niagara Falls. That would mean 60 fewer trucks would visit the facility daily to drop off waste.

The facility hosted neighbors from the surrounding community last week, Regan said, with more than 50 people seeing a presentation about the new containers in which waste will be shipped. The company says the containers are fully sealed and leakproof.

Shirley Hamilton, a Niagara Falls resident and head of the city’s chapter of the NAACP, called the 15-day period “ridiculous.”

“I think that the DEC forgets their mission,” Hamilton said, “and their mission is to represent us and take care of the people of New York State, not take care of the companies.”

For more information on the company’s proposals, visit www.dec.ny.gov/permits/95962.html. Copies are also available at the Niagara Falls Public Library, 1425 Main St., and the Doris Jones Family Resource Center, 3001 Ninth St.