As published in the Record Journal Saturday September 15, 2012
By Laurie Rich Salerno
WALLINGFORD – The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the owners of the town’s trash-to-energy plant will hold an informational public meeting in October, triggered by a petition from residents with concerns about the plant.
Representatives of Covanta, the New Jersey-based company that runs the Wallingford plant at 530 S. Cherry St., and the DEEP will be at Town Hall on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. to answer questions about the facility.
Every day, the plant burns 420 tons of trash from Wallingford, Meriden, Cheshire, North Haven and Hamden, according to Covanta. The process produces 11 megawatts of energy daily, which Connecticut Light and Power purchases. Covanta has applied to the department to renew its Solid Waste permit. After an initial and then more in-depth technical review, the DEEP tentatively approved the permit, with a 30-day period for public comment.
Resident Robert Gross, a longtime critic of the plant, submitted a 25-name petition to the DEEP during the period, which forced a hearing. Gross said he and other residents are concerned about the facility’s previous Environmental Protection Agency violations and the odors he says sometimes emanate from the facility.
“You can go down there on a good day and get some real strong whiffs of trash and burning - especially in the summer months when the air is heavier,” Gross said.
After submitting the petition, he and two other residents met with representatives from DEEP and Covanta to discuss some of the issues that led them to object to the permitting. Some issues were resolved, according to Gross and the DEEP, but it was decided to hold a public information session so all residents can ask questions of both the authority and the business.
The information session is preferable to a public hearing, Gross said. In a public hearing, the public merely voices concerns about the direct issues that are logged for the DEEP’s consideration. But in an information session, the company and DEEP can answer questions raised at the meeting, or get back later to inquiring parties. In this format, the public also doesn’t have to stick to questions related solely to solid waste permitting; they can talk about air emissions, which is covered in a separate air quality permit that will come up for renewal next year, according to a DEEP spokesman.
“My hope is that it’s very productive dialogue and that we satisfy the questions and the concerns that the residents have,” said Gabrielle Frigon, permitting supervisor at the DEEP. Frigon has been working with both Gross and Covanta on the process.
Covanta representatives said they, too, were looking forward to the October session.
“We’re always open to letting the public know what we do at the plant and help them understand what we do with the plant,” said James Regan, Covanta’s manager of corporate communications. Regan said the meeting “should provide plenty of information and address concerns if there are concerns.”
Gross said he believes some of the conversation will involve the plant’s previous emissions violations.
The state attorney general’s office sued Covanta in 2010 and won the case after the plant had two emissions violations in two years. The company was forced to pay $400,000, split between the state treasurer and DEEP.
Testing showed that one of the plant’s emissions stacks was letting out more than twice the dioxins than are allowed. The unit was shut down and upgraded to fix the problem, according to Regan, and is now running below the legal limit.
“Tests have come back since we’ve restarted the unit, and it’s been well within compliance,”Regan said. Frigon said the petitioners could still force a public hearing if they are unsatisfied by the outcome of the informational session. “We want to make sure that the public absolutely maintains their right to be heard,” Frigon said.