Onondaga County considers future of trash burning facility

Non-recyclable household trash from Onondaga County has been incinerated and turned into electricity at the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA) facility on Rock Cut Road. Covanta built and has operated the incinerator since 1994. Under the terms of the existing contract, Covanta has the option to buy it in May 2015 for one dollar.

On Tuesday, Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci released an audit looking at options for OCRRA's future. The biggest question is - does OCRRA want to own the incinerator or should they let Covanta take it over?

Antonacci is also on the OCRRA board but says he conducted the audit independently. Antonacci's audit does not make recommendations on the site's ownership but says says both options have benefits and risks. If Covanta does take over the waste to energy facility, OCCRA would not have control over its operations.

"Covanta could be bringing in trash from outside the community, which I know some stakeholders would not be happy about," said Antonacci.

Former Onondaga County lawmaker Vicki Baker has had concerns about the incinerator since it opened. Baker, who lives in nearby Jamesville, wants OCRRA to keep ownership of the facility and a the same time address the pollution coming out every day.

"It may surprise you that 305 million pounds of hazardous materials were reported from that plant in 2012," said Baker.

If OCRRA does keep ownership of the waste to energy operation , it also takes on some risks. By OCRRA's own accounting, the waste to energy facility lost almost $3 million in 2012.

Antonacci says the community and lawmakers need to have discussions about the risks and benefits of different options for incinerator's future.

"Everybody knows this is coming down the tracks, we're not going to be caught of guard and I think we're going to be able to debate all of the parameters of the potential decisions," said Antonacci.

In Antonacci's audit, maintaining the status quo is also listed as an option. OCRRA could continue to own the facility and Covanta could operate it but OCRRA would have the chance to improve long term financial sustainability. Antonacci says OCRRA and Covanta have been in talks about the incinerator's future since last summer.