Pittsfield trash/recycling board reserves judgment on saving Covanta

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PITTSFIELD >> An ad hoc waste/recycling panel is withholding judgment on a plan to rescue the city's trash-to-energy/recycling facility.

The Pittsfield Resource Recovery Committee on Thursday said first it wants to hear the council Community and Economic Development Committee vet the proposal.

The group of five councilors will meet 7 p.m. on Wednesday at City Hall. If the council subcommittee makes a recommendation to the full council at its Oct. 11 meeting, the resource recovery committee plans to meet beforehand to say where it stands on the plan.

"I would feel more comfortable reading the memos and listening to the committee," said Jamie Cahillane, a member of the resource recovery committee.

Covanta announced in early July that it planned to close the Hubbard Avenue facility because the high operating costs and the size of the plant has made it unprofitable. The New Jersey-based company has planned to shutter the facility in March.

Mayor Linda Tyer wants the city to spend $562,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to help pay for a recycling enclosure and upgrades to the fossil fuel boiler to help keep the facility afloat. The financial package includes state energy tax credits and would allow Covanta to continue to sell steam energy to Crane & Co. in Dalton.

The mayor said she has assurances Covanta would remain open four more years until the city can develop a long-range waste disposal plan.

"Four years seems like a short time for such an investment," said committee member Charlie Cook. "In four years we'll be right back where we started."

Tyer has asked the committee to study alternative trash and recycling options.

"Part of our charge is what to do if that facility closes," said Chairwoman Rhonda Serre.

The shutdown of the plant would put 25 people out of work and force Pittsfield to have its trash and recyclables hauled out of county at an estimated first-year price tag of $462,000, according to city officials. In addition, the closure, over the first four years, would cost Pittsfield $960,000 in property taxes, water/sewer user fees and host community fees, the latter allowing Covanta to take solid waste from surrounding communities.

Should Covanta close before the four-year period, the company would have to pay back a portion of the economic development grant, depending on when they closed. For example, if it shut down in two years, half the $562,000 would be returned to city coffers.

Currently, the economic development fund has $5.2 million, almost half of the originally $10 million General Electric paid Pittsfield as part of the corporate giant's PCB cleanup of the Housatonic River.

The Hubbard Avenue facility, built in 1981 by Vicon Construction Co., has been run by Covanta since 2007. Covanta took over the structure when it purchased Energy Answers, which bought the facility from Vicon in 1994. Pittsfield's energy-from-waste facility is one of the oldest such plants in the country. Covanta operates 45 total energy-to-waste plants.

Contact Dick Lindsay at (413) 496-6233.


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