“Collecting signatures was easy, when people heard what is proposed,” said Michele Bowers, co-chair of Allentown Residents For Clean Air. “A lot of people had no idea what the city has in mind.”

The proposed Clean Air ordinance – Bill 26 – is on council’s agenda for introduction Wednesday night. Council president Julio Guridy said council members will not discuss it at that meeting. Following a council tradition of allowing no public comment at the introduction of a bill on the agenda, he also does not intend to let the public to speak on in it at the meeting.

Guridy will schedule a committee-of-the-whole meeting where council will discuss if it wants to vote on the proposed ordinance. Public comment on the proposal will be heard at that meeting. Guridy said he has not polled council to find out what its members will want to do.

“I want to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the safety of Allentown citizens, regardless of what the petitioners want or what the company wants,” said the council president.

Hanlon said City Council has until June 21 to act -- 60 days from April 22, when he confirmed in writing that sufficient legitimate signatures had been submitted.

If City Council votes for the ordinance, it becomes law, but Ewall predicted it probably won’t do that.

If council does not act on it or votes it down, Hanlon said it will be forwarded to Lehigh County’s elections office “for the next available election.”

Good for the city

If approving the ordinance becomes a ballot question, members of Allentown Residents for Clean Air will have until November to convince enough city voters that the waste-to-energy plant is a bad idea.

But Van Naarden said if residents take the time to get educated about what Delta Thermo plans to do, they will realize “this is really good for the city.”

Pawlowski said Allentown will save tens of millions of dollars over the life of the 35-year Delta Thermo contract and won’t have to worry about the dwindling availability of landfill space.

“This is innovative and cutting-edge environmental technology designed to eliminate the need to landfill city trash, thus improving the environment and saving the city taxpayer for decades to come,” said Allentown’s mayor. “It was for those reasons that the city explored and entertained alternative garbage disposal technologies."

Van Naarden agreed it’s not just about saving money: “What we’re doing is good for the environment.”

Construction not started

The 48,000-square-foot plant will be built on three acres leased from the city, between Union Street and Allentown’s sewage treatment plant. It will operate round-the-clock, burning 108 tons of the city’s municipal solid waste and 42 tons of its sewage sludge every day to produce electricity.

Previously, Van Naarden said construction of the plant would begin by March or April of this year. Ewall said he’s not surprised that didn’t happen, maintaining builders of such plants always say the start of construction is just around the corner when it isn’t.

Late Friday afternoon, Van Naarden said the property and building site have been staked, He said the next steps will be clearing the land, building the foundations and installing utilities. “Nothing will be coming out of the ground for quite some time.”

Bowers said the plant, which will be built along the Lehigh River, is being put in a lower income area of the city. “These people have not been given the opportunity to know what’s going on.”

Ewall said if you ask the average person on the street if city residents should have a right to know what’s coming out the stack of a waste-to-energy plant, the reply might be: “Don’t we already know that?” Said Ewall: “The answer is no.”

The proposed ordinance contains civil penalties up to $25,000 a day for each violation and criminal penalties up to $2,500 per violation or 90 days in jail.

Meeting environmental standards

In the spring of 2012, City Council approved a 35-year-contract with Delta Thermo to build the plant, after public meetings and much debate.

"The contract has already been executed with Delta Thermo upon receiving city council approval,” said Pawlowski. “The contract holds them to all state and federal emissions standards, which are extremely stringent. Delta Thermo will need to get permits and approval from both the EPA and DEP before they can begin operation.”

Guridy noted Delta Thermo has said it intends to surpass standards set by DEP and EPA.

Ewall said there’s no way the plant will be built if its operators are held accountable for what comes out of its stack.