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City and state officials are hoping that a new tax credit will help keep Covanta in Pittsfield.

Pittsfield Notes: Covanta, Handicap Parking, Solar Arrays

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City officials are hoping Covanta won't be leaving after all with the passage of a new tax incentive for those type of operations.
 
Covanta plans to close its Hubbard Avenue facility in March claiming the "high operating costs and the size of the facility have made it increasingly difficult to run the plant profitably," according to company spokesman James Regan.
 
The plant has been in operations since 1981 on 5.8 acres of land and serves as the primary location for Republic Services to dispose of trash collected from the curbside collection of residents. The company turns the waste into steam energy, which is then sold to Crane & Co. 
 
But, with the passage of a new state energy bill, local officials are holding out hope that a tax credit will help continue the operations.
 
"With Senator Downing's lead and my support on the house side, we have put in a provision that gives tax credits to waste to energy facilities. And that will be very useful when it comes to the Covanta plant. It might, possibly, allow it to continue operating as it is with the continued ownership of Covanta. We're not sure that can happen but at least this legislation has made it possible," state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier said on Thursday.
 
"We have been concerned about the long-term viability of having this plant continuing to be run by Covanta. Through the senator's lead, we came up with this creative idea to make the funding work. That's what it has come down to. It is difficult to keep this particular plant open. It is one of the most expensive plants to run. We wanted to do what we can to support them because they closing it would have a significant impact on the city of Pittsfield and the taxpayers."
 
Mayor Linda Tyer said last Tuesday that her office has been in conversation with Covanta and Crane & Co. and what started as a dismal news, the energy credits have led her to be "cautiously optimistic." 
 
"It was a sense of hopelessness that they were going to close but now I am cautiously optimistic that they will remain in the community," she said. "We've been working pretty feverishly to get a better handle of what Covanta's intentions are." 
 
However, right now, "we don't know what Covanta is going to do," the mayor said. Nonetheless, she believes there are still cost saving opportunities for the future either way when it comes to trash removal. 
 
The issue came up on Tuesday when Councilor Nicholas Caccamo filed a petition to require the use of a toter system to make residents more conscious of recycling. That petition was sent to the resource and recovery commission. 
 
Council Vice President John Krol commended Caccamo for filing such a petition because for years trash pickup has been a "third rail" of politics. Krol added that a new system could help reduce the number of out-of-town people who transport their garbage to property in Pittsfield for pickup — an expense paid for by city taxpayers.
 
"Limiting garbage is something a lot of people don't want to see," Krol said. "I hope that it is a very comprehensive and thoughtful conversation." 
 
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell said the city's recycling rates are dismally low and he'd consider looking at issuing rebates to households based on how much is recycled. 
 
In other business, the City Council is still looking at what to do with handicapped spaces downtown. Connell filed a petition to require a handicapped parking space per every 10 other spaces on downtown streets. 
 
"ADA rules are for the whole country. I'm looking at this from the perspective of the age of our population. We need to make sure people who have physical disabilities have proper places to park," Connell said.
 
Connell added that he'd like the City Council to have say over where those spots should be. City Solicitor Richard Dohoney said the council always has the say when it comes to traffic orders. Nonetheless, Connell hopes that the change in ordinance would ensure there are sufficient on-street handicapped parking spaces. Right now, there are only a few and laws only require the spaces in places like garages and not on-street. 
 
Downtown Pittsfield Inc. Executive Director Kristine Hurley says the requirement may be too stringent. She'd like to have the flexibility to work with the city in determining where spaces will go. 
 
"We had done some of our own research and the state does not have guidelines on street parking, only on lots," Hurley said. 
 
Once the streetscape project is done, there will be more spots on North Street, she said. 
 
The council agreed to work with the Commission on Disabilities and the Office of Community Development to sort out where the locations will be — in time before the line painting is completed.
 
On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Appeals also granted a special permit for a 166 kilowatt solar array at 881 Holmes Road. The array on 2.8 acres of property is being proposed by Jon Macht. While the approval for a special permit was granted easily, there is still debate over the height of the fence required.
 
Macht said he ordered and started to install a 6-foot fence. But then was told by the Building Inspector's office that it had to be 7-feet high. The special permit requires Macht to now comply with building inspector regulations.
 
"I obtained a permit, I purchased the hardware, and I started to put up the fence in good faith," Macht said. "I don't think it is fair and reasonable that I should be held to a higher standard than any of these others, especially the city of Pittsfield."
 
Macht displayed photos of the solar array at the city's municipal treatment plant that doesn't have a 7-foot fence, doesn't have a secured gated, nor does it have lighting. He went to Stearnsville Business Park and found the fencing was shorter and does not surround the entire property. He said he walked in to find wiring systems not protected, which is against what he says is the electrical code. He also showed photos of a solar panel with no fence on South Street. 
 
Macht disagrees with the codes cited by the Building Inspection Department, which was based on the national electric code and says instead it should be based on another electrical code specifically crafted for solar arrays.
 
Also this week, Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy said a project for West Housatonic Street and Center Street intersection is getting ready for construction. 
 
"It is a $3 million construction project that the state is going to pay for. We have to do the design and pay for the easements," he said.
 
Those easements were granted and Turocy says the plan will be to reconstruct the intersection to allow trucks to more easily make right hand turns from Center onto West Housatonic Street - now the trucks are often going into the eastbound travel land of West Housatonic Street. The project will also align the intersection so cars are no longer facing oncoming travel lands.
 
"It is a tough project but it will be done, most of it next year," Turocy said.
 
Krol added, "This is a mess of an intersection, no doubt about that."

Tags: recycling,   solar array,   trash,   ZBA,   

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