Residents have less than a week left to file formal comments with a state agency overseeing plans for a controversial rail development project at a local waste incineration facility.
The timeframe offered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the agency’s handling of the announcement have angered several opponents of the project which would allow Covanta Niagara to ship hundreds of thousands of tons of waste, via rail, to Niagara Falls from New York City each year.
“I’m very disappointed with the DEC’s relationship with the public,” said Shirley Hamilton, a Falls resident who was part of a group that protested plans for the rail expansion last year. “I thought the DEC was created to ensure that people, residents, us, were going to be protected.”
Covanta Niagara has been converting waste into clean renewable energy since 1980. The waste-to-energy facility incinerates municipal garbage. The electricity and steam produced at the facility supplies surrounding businesses and the regional electrical grid.
The company’s current permit application proposes the renovation of an inactive, 15-acre rail yard adjacent to the existing facility’s property. According to the DEC’s website listing for the application, the expansion will “more efficiently deliver up to 500,000 tons per year of waste by train in place of delivering the waste by truck.”
The DEC outlined procedures for public comment on the project in an Environmental Notice Bulletin on Sept. 24 and in the Niagara Gazette’s classified section a day later. The deadline to submit comments is Oct. 10.
DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes noted that copies of the application documents are available for review in two repositories in Niagara Falls, including the Doris Jones Family Resource Center on 9th Street and the Earl Brydges Library on Main Street. The documents are also available at the DEC Region 9 office on Michigan Avenue in Buffalo and on the region’s website.
Hamilton and other project critics aren’t pleased with what they have described as a lack of adequate, advanced public notice about the start of the comment period. They argue that 15 days is not enough for residents to digest voluminous materials tied to the proposed expansion plan.
“DEC ought to respond officially as to why they think it’s appropriate to give the community 15 days notice to start shipping New York City garbage to Niagara Falls for 30 years,” said Amy Witryol, a Lewiston resident who has questioned several aspects of the Covanta proposal and raised concerns about its potential impact on the surrounding community. “Why is that a question that deserves 15 days of comment, no hearing, and not even a press release?”