Chester OKs incinerator expansion

Posted: August 15, 2014

Chester City Council unanimously approved controversial expansion plans Wednesday for a trash incinerator along the city's waterfront that would allow the operator to accept waste shipped by train from New York.

Council members told a packed audience that they understood concerns about the trash-to-steam plant's presence in Chester but could not deny the facility's right to operate.

Covanta plans to construct two buildings, which the company said will allow it to accept trash in updated and safer containers. Representatives from Covanta said the changes will not affect the amount of trash or operating hours at the plant.

"They're not applying for whether they should stay here or not or whether we can get rid of them or not," Mayor John Linder said. "We're going to vote on what we have in front of us and that's whether or not they have a legal right to do a land-development plan."

Covanta's proposal led to debates in Chester this summer about health and environmental issues. The incinerator opened in 1992, around the same time that several other waste-management facilities moved into the financially troubled Delaware County city, sparking litigation and protests over environmental racism.

Two decades later, however, some of the activists who worked against the facilities when they opened have voiced support for Covanta's plans. State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D., Delaware) said he and other Chester residents worked years ago to make the waste facilities safer. He told the City Council he saw no problems with Covanta's application.

Adding two buildings totaling 50,000 square feet to Covanta's 270,000-square-foot facility will allow Covanta to accept trash that comes by railroad from New York to be burned in Chester, said Vince Mancini, Covanta's attorney. Trucks would still deliver the rail containers to the incinerator after they arrive by train in Wilmington. Mancini said Covanta already accepts trash from New York that arrives by truck, and the rail containers are more secure.

Several residents told the City Council on Wednesday that they were opposed to the continued presence of the incinerator in their city because they have concerns about air quality and public health.

"If I was here in 1988 I'd probably vote against it," Councilman William A. Jacobs said, referring to the year the incinerator received approval to come to Chester.

Now, Jacobs said, the city is bound by state law requiring communities to accept development proposals that fit planning and zoning codes.

"We can all vote no," he said, " but then they would win later on in court, wasting taxpayers' money."



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