Public gets first chance to weigh in on 'Trash to Ash' plan

May 15, 2014

The so-called Trash to Ash plan is now officially before the public. The initial public comment period has started, regarding a regional solid waste partnership between Onondaga and Cortland County, but there is already opposition to the plan.
Under the plan, Cortland County would ship its trash to the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency's, or OCRRA’s, Waste to Energy facility in Jamesville. Then Onondaga County would send ash back to the Cortland County Landfill instead of a landfill near Rochester, where it currently goes. The trash burning plant has been operating under capacity because of the success of the county’s recycling program.

Both counties are inviting comments as part of the State Environmental Quality Review, or SEQR. Some residents have already started galvanizing opposition to the plan. Vicki Baker of Jamesville, a former county legislator, led the fight against the trash burner 20 years ago.

"We have obviously had concerns about this plant from day one," Baker said. "There are tons and tons of pollution coming out of that plant that the public is not being told about. I believe this is a fork in the road.  We have an opportunity to come up with alternatives to phase that plant out.”

One of Baker's other concerns is the fact that Cortland County’s recycling rate is 17 percent, which means more chemical laden materials would be burned.

“We will be raising emissions from mercury and other hazardous materials, even the chemicals created just from incineration," Baker said. "Dioxins, the acid gases and greenhouse gases. It’s not a good plan. What we need to do is phase this plant out.”

She adds that bringing in outside trash was one of the initial concerns about building the plant.

"We’re right back to square one," Baker explained. "We predicted that importation would be brought up at every chance they could. It’s all about money. This plan is all about money, and I don’t think it’s worth risking the health of the people of Onondaga County for a few pieces of silver.”

Complicating things is the fact that Onondaga County is in the midst of negotiations with Covanta, the company that currently runs the plant. If the county doesn’t agree on a new contract with Covanta by this time next year, then the company could buy it for $1. So with environmental and fiscal issues at play, County Legislator David Knapp expects plenty of opportunity to hear concerns.

"We’re going to be scheduling public hearings in several areas of the county, particularly around the incinerator itself," Knapp said. "But wherever there’s interest we’re going to have public hearings. There’s even interest up north because that’s where there’s a DEC landfill approved in the Town of Van Buren.”

Onondaga and Cortland Counties are leading the State Environmental Quality Review process. Written comments will be accepted through June 14.