Tyer's proposal would tap into GE cleanup fund to keep Covanta plant open

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PITTSFIELD — Mayor Linda M. Tyer wants to invest $562,000 to keep Covanta open four more years.

Tyer is seeking City Council approval to use Pittsfield Economic Development Funds so the waste-to-energy and recycling facility can make the necessary improvements — and save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

"My hope is we've averted the crisis of Covanta closing," Tyer said on Monday. "People probably wouldn't have felt the impact until they closed."

The mayor will formally submit her request to the council at its meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in City Hall.

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.

Tyer says the $562,000 would pay for a Recycling Consolidated Enclosure and upgrades to the fossil fuel boiler. Currently, the fund has $5.2 million, almost half of the originally $10 million General Electric paid Pittsfield as part of corporate giant's PCB cleanup of the Housatonic River.

The money is part of a financial package to keep trash burning plant afloat that 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 long-range waste disposal plan.

Council President Peter M. Marchetti expects the proposal to be referred to the council's Community and Economic Development Committee for review and recommendation back to the entire council for a vote.

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 property taxes, water/sewer user fees and host community fees, the latter allowing Covanta to take solid waste from surrounding communities.

"This is absolutely a Berkshire County issue as it has far reaching implications," Tyer said.

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.

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.

Covanta's decision to provide advance notice of its intention to close the plant was done to give its business partners and customers enough time seek other trash disposal/recycling alternatives, company officials said in July.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.


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