The elegant solution to the Covanta issue approved by the City Council Tuesday night enables Pittsfield to avoid a knotty waste disposal problem. It also provides time to explore long-term options.
Mayor Linda Tyer proposed that the city provide Covanta $562,000 in Pittsfield Economic Development Funds so the Hubbard Avenue trash-burning plant could be upgraded and remain profitable. The New Jersey-based company announced in July it planned to close the plant because of high operating costs.
It is hard to imagine a better use for a half-million dollars of what used to be called GE funds, especially given that if the solid waste-to-energy and recycling facility had closed next year Pittsfield would have had to pay an estimated $462,000 in its first year to haul waste and recyclables out of the Berkshires. Pittsfield would have lost $960,000 in property taxes and user fees along with 25 jobs. The four-year agreement coincides with Covanta's four-year contract with the city.
Covanta didn't want to commit past four years, which is understandable given uncertainties related to energy costs. It is possible that Covanta will close the plant within those four years, in which case it would pay back the percentage of funds that coincide with that time period. Pittsfield, whose residents have long benefited from an enviable waste disposal system, shouldn't waste time preparing for a likely post-Covanta future.
The upgrades to the plant will allow Covanta to continue to sell steam energy to local businesses Crane Currency and Neenah Technologies. The Tyer administration and those it worked with in finding this solution should be complimented for acting quickly upon learning about Covanta's plans and not dilly-dallying, as has been too common in Pittsfield when confronted with a difficult problem.