By Jordan Cohen
City council yielded to angry union opposition Wednesday and voted 5-2 to table a resolution that would have authorized a feasibility study for development of a waste-to- energy center in Niles. The resolution had been proposed as an emergency measure.
Nearly 40 members of AFSCME Local 506, the union representing waste-treatment workers, packed council chambers to express fears that their jobs will be eliminated should the city go forward with construction of the plant.
A Canadian-based company, Hydra Renewable Resources, would pay for and conduct the seven-month study to determine the feasibility of building a facility to recycle waste-water and convert it to energy that the company could sell. Its local representative, David DeChristofaro, former Niles and Trumbull County engineer, said Hydra would pay “hundreds of millions of dollars” to build the facility, along with a new waste-treatment plant.
“More jobs will be created, and no union jobs will be lost,” DeChristofaro said. He told council the city would be under no obligation to build the WEC after the study is completed. “You can simply walk away after the study,” he said.
The union wasn’t having any of it.
Bo Marchionte, a 20-year waste-treatment operator, told council he had researched the company and did not like what he found.
“They’ve got plants in 65 countries, but not one functional plant in the United States,” Marchionte said. “They don’t have to worry about the EPA where they operate.”
He quoted a statement he attributed to a Hydra executive that the company targets cities that are financially stressed, and cited communities in New Hampshire and California that turned down agreements with the company.
“[DeChristofaro] gave you the sugar-coated version,” Marchionte said. “When something is too good to be true, it isn’t.”
Union representative Debbie Bindas said council should have gotten more in writing in an agreement that was still being worked out. “There’s nothing about union jobs written in it,” she said, “and you can’t answer any questions about it.”
Mayor Ralph Infante said he supported going forward with the resolution because there would be neither cost nor obligation to the city, and the WEC offers potential benefits for the community. “We sign a contract for 19,000 people of Niles, and I don’t want to take the chance of losing out,” he said.
After the vote, Infante openly expressed his disappointment. “Nobody ever said we are going to lose union jobs,” the mayor said.
DeChristofaro said before the vote that Hydra needed an answer from the city by next month. He declined to give a specific date when Hydra will withdraw its proposal if there is no resolution from council.
“I can only tell you it’s sometime in July, but I can’t say when,” DeChristofaro said. He added that Hydra plans to present a similar proposal to Warren.
Council, after Wednesday’s meeting, is in summer recess until August. There is no indication that there will be any effort to schedule a special meeting in the interim.