Chester, PA Residents Air Concerns over Covanta Trash Incineration Plan

UPDATE: despite strong organizing efforts, an outpouring of community opposition and strong research we've compiled to show how awful this plan is, city council voted unanimously on Aug 13th to approve Covanta's plan that allows 30 years of New York City waste to be brought by train to Chester for incineration.  In fact, it'll go through Chester to Wilmington, DE, then will be trucked back into Chester, with five more trucks than they'd normally need since rail boxes are smaller than normal trucks.  It's an insane plan and we'll continue to fight it.  See Chester Environmental Justice for details.


-  by Vince Sullivan, July 24, 2014, Delaware County Daily Times

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"237","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"272","style":"width: 255px; height: 145px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: LancasterOnline.com","width":"480"}}]]Dozens of city residents attended Wednesday night’s council meeting to voice their opposition to a proposal that would allow the country’s largest trash incinerator to construct additional buildings on its property.

Covanta’s Delaware Valley Resource Recovery Facility, located in the first block of Highland Avenue, is seeking to construct a 16,000-square-foot building that would enable the facility to handle a different kind of truck traffic. The company recently entered into a 20-year contract with New York City to incinerate up to 500,000 tons of municipal waste each year. The waste would be brought from New York to Wilmington, Del., via train and then the rail boxes would be put onto tractor-trailers to be trucked to Chester.

A Covanta vice president attended two planning commission meetings where he explained that the incinerator is not seeking to increase its trash-burning capacity, which is regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, but said the trash from New York would replace other municipal waste sources. He added that because more trash wouldn’t be coming into the facility, the number of trucks driving to the incinerator would not increase. The rail box building would enable the boxes to be removed from the trucks and emptied onto the tipping floor.

The proposal also calls for a 1,000-square-foot office building. The Chester City Planning Comission recommended that city council deny the application.

Councilman Nafis Nichols, presiding over the council meeting because Mayor John Linder was late, said that council would not be voting on the application Wednesday night because council members needed more information.

“We want to ensure that we move in the best direction for the city,” Nichols said of the proposal, which has garnered much attention from the public. Nichols said council members have received dozens of calls and emails from residents about the proposal.

“We are on a fact-finding mission as a council and may not have the answers to some of the questions the public may have,” Nichols said.

Councilman William A. Jacobs said council had already spoken with Covanta representatives and that he was eager to see a presentation prepared by the Chester Environmental Justice Organization. That group has been responsible for drumming up public opposition to the proposed project by distributing fliers throughout the city and also made an hourlong presentation to the planning commission before it made its recommendation earlier this month.

“We have met with the Covanta people and heard what they have to say,” Jacobs said, urging the organization to set up a time to relate its issues with the proposal.

Resident Sharon Hyland voiced her opposition to Covanta’s application, saying that testing needed to be done on the incinerator’s emissions.

“Lives are really at stake here,” she said, referring to the filtering mechanisms used to scrub the emission from the facility’s 245-foot smokestack. The plant utilizes two filtering systems — a dry scrubber system and a fabric filter bag house system, with six of each system. Other plants in the region use additional filtering systems, Hyland said, to prevent mercury and dioxin release into the atmosphere.

“We’re really serious about them not operating here,” she said, indicating that other industrial sites in Chester were also contributing to the air pollution in the city. “Covanta came up first, so we’re dealing with them first. Get the air, water and soil tested so you don’t have to take our word or Covanta’s word.”

Don Newton said he wanted to make sure that council was considering the application with an eye toward how it will affect the residents’ well-being.

“Giving the outpouring of the community, you are hearing the voice of this city,” Newton said. “I want to make sure that the primary concern ... is the health and well-being of the people. There ain’t no amount of money in the world that comes before that.”

Linder, who arrived after attending a regional meeting of government leaders, said council will consider many things as it deliberates about what to do with the application.

“We have to take into account what our responsibility is in this situation,” Linder said.

He explained that there are many legal issues that surround every council action, and elected officials have to be aware of that.

Questions arose during the public comment portion of the meeting about the payment’s that Covanta makes to the city in lieu of taxes. A $5 million host-community fee is paid by Covanta annually, and one resident wanted to ensure that council didn’t get hung up on financial issues when deciding on the application.

“You should have a greater concern for the people’s lives than the $5 million,” said Farid Rasool.

He implored council to think about how approving the proposal would impact future generations.

“You and me will be dead in the ground and somebody else will be paying for the decision you make,” he said to a round of applause from the audience.

Linder responded that everyone on council is a Chester resident and the decision they make will affect them, too.

“Our decision is not only about money,” Linder said. “We all live in the city and breathe the same air, so we are aware of that.”

Nichols explained that the $5 million payment is part of a long-term agreement with Covanta and is not a part of their application.

One woman that lives in the Crum Lynne section of Ridley Township said council’s decision will impact more than just the people in Chester.

“I live on the outskirts of Chester so everything you bring in to the city, I’m going to breathe it, too,” said Joan Turner.