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Trash to Ashes to Help Cortland and Onondaga Counties

Cleaner electricity, cleaner landfills and lower bills for Onondaga and Cortland Counties are among the benefits of a proposed “Ash for Trash” program, say local officials.

“We see this as pretty amazing,” said Kristen Lawton, spokesperson for the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency or  OCRRA. The program will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost OCRRA’s efficiency at a lower cost, said Lawton.

“Ash for Trash” would work like this: Cortland County would begin sending 25,000 tons a year of trash to the Rock Cut Road Incinerator in Jamesville. The trash would be burned at the Rock Cut Road Incinerator. Then Onondaga County would send all the ash — roughly 90,000 tons — produced each year by the incinerator to Cortland landfills instead of to High Acres landfill outside Rochester.

The change in landfills would cut in half the distance the trash has to be trucked. that would immediately cut nearly 2 million pounds in greenhouse gasses a year from the trucks’ emissions and save a quarter million dollars in fuel and toll costs, according to OCRRA.

Cortland County officials and OCRRA are eager for the deal because, they say, it will help both balance their books. The Cortland and Onondaga County Legislatures will be voting on whether or not to adopt the “Ash for Trash” deal later this spring.

For Cortland, the county would be compensated roughly $1 million a year from OCRRA in exchange for being allowed to deposit ash in Cortland County landfills. Cortland now runs its landfill at a loss of around $400,000 a year.

For OCCRA, the “Ash for Trash” agreement would provide enough trash to generate an additional half million dollars in electricity revenue, officials say. The Rock Cut Road incinerator has been operating under capacity since the recession began in 2008, burning only 315,000 tons of waste a year as opposed to its permitted maximum of 362,000 tons.

“The only time we require outside energy is when we have to restart furnaces due to lack of waste. The rest of the time the waste treatment facility is generating energy,” said OCCRA spokesperson Lawton.

Richard Smardon, an environmental expert and professor at SUNY ESF, suggests the program would not hurt the environment.  “There would be nothing more than a negligible effect on the emissions coming out of the Rock Cut Road incinerator,” said Smardon.

(Andrew Troast is a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism.)

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Posted in Spring 2014 | Comments Off