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Syracuse City Council Seeks Alternatives to Incineration

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- by Tim Knauss, March 2, 2015, Syracuse.com

The city council today voted against a 20-year extension of Syracuse's garbage disposal contract with the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, citing a desire to pursue alternatives to trash incineration.

Syracuse remains obligated under its existing contract to haul waste to OCCRA's trash plant near Jamesville through June 2015, but it's not clear what will happen after that.

Councilor-at-Large Jean Kessner, who led opposition to the contract renewal, said she would like the city to negotiate a five-year deal with OCRRA and pursue alternatives over the long term, such as more extensive recycling.

But Onondaga County passed a so-called flow control law in 2003 that requires municipalities to deliver garbage to OCRRA. That law could be used to compel the city to send its garbage to OCRRA, said District Councilor Jake Barrett, who also serves on the OCRRA board of directors.

Barrett was among the three councilors who voted to approve the contract. Without a contract, Syracuse might lose a $5-per-ton discount on tipping fees that OCRRA gives to preferred waste haulers, he said.

The city council's vote comes during a year of controversy and transition for the 20-year-old trash incinerator on Rock Cut Road.

Tuesday, the county Legislature is scheduled to vote on an environmental impact statement for a so-called "ash for trash'' agreement with neighboring Cortland County.

Opponents of the deal are urging legislators to delay the vote and extend the environmental review. They want the county examine potential health impacts more closely and to consider alternatives, such as phasing out the incinerator.

But the OCRRA plant has been chronically under-utilized, and agency officials want to increase the amount of garbage burned there.

Following a year of difficult negotiations, OCRRA in November approved a new 20-year contract with the operator of its trash plant, Covanta Energy Corp. Among other things, the contract obligates OCRRA to increase the amount of garbage coming into the plant by 30,000 tons from today's level, or about 9 percent.

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and legislative leaders have touted the agreement with Cortland County as a financially and environmentally beneficial solution to OCRRA's shortage of trash.

Under the deal Cortland County would send about 25,000 tons of garbage a year, and would accept ash from the OCRAA incinerator at the Cortland County landfill.

Critics, including Kessner, say the community should work to phase out trash incineration, which contributes to air pollution and global warming.

She wants Syracuse, which provides about 13 percent of the trash at OCRRA's facility, to spend the next few years looking for alternatives. She did not provide specifics today.

"Being locked into a 20-year contract would prevent the kinds of innovation that would make our city more sustainable,'' Kessner said.

Officials at OCRRA, a public benefit corporation, are still reviewing the Syracuse council's vote and its potential impact, said Kristen Lawton, speaking for OCRRA. "It's hard to say how this is going to work out,'' she said.

Although Onondaga County has a flow-control law that applies to municipalities, OCRRA traditionally has relied on voluntary contracts with each of the 33 municipalities that deliver trash to the incinerator.