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OCRRA extends trash plant contract for 20 more years

Office of Onondaga County Comptroller
Onondaga County's Waste-to-Energy Facility in Jamesville. (file photo)

The new deal between the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency and the company that runs its waste-to-energy plant in Jamesville calls for burning more trash, but OCRRA officials say that isn’t a problem.

OCRRA has agreed to extend its partnership for another 20 years with Covanta Onondaga, the company that’s been running the Jamesville facility since it opened more than two decades ago. The deal requires Onondaga County to come up with 345,000 tons of garbage a year, or pay a penalty. It works out to an average of nine percent more trash than the county produces now.

Executive Director Mark Donnelly says at $5 or $6 a ton, it’s not going to break the bank.

“We’re a $34 million organization, and it’s $120,000," Donnelly said. "That’s the frustrating part of trying to get the message to the community, that the shortfall is not a big deal. We got rid of the whole excess waste requirement they had in the past, and that one year cost us $1 million.”

Donnelly says the deal also means updated pollution control and monitoring, and gives local officials control over the source of trash for the incinerator, something county officials have emphasized in the past.

"Public ownership provides the right for OCRRA and the county to have oversight of the facility, to control what goes into the facility and from where,” Donnelly explained.

He says that's the major takeaway from the deal.

“It limits 100 percent Covanta’s ability to bring in anything without our consent," Donnelly said. "That’s how we’ve worked for 23 years, and we have a flawless record on our ash testing and our emissions testing."

Critics worry this new requirement for extra trash could play into the next big waste decision for Onondaga County -- whether to accept trash from Cortland County, in a so-called trash-to-ash plan.

OCRRA has been running at less than full capacity in recent years, in part because of the recession, but also because of the high rate of recycling among residents and businesses in Onondaga County.