Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 19, 2014

Tonawanda Coke ordered to pay $12.5M in fines; official jailed

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette — The ongoing monitoring of the plant does provide a challenge, but Hochul noted that the probationary period will allow federal and state officials to enter the property based on reasonable suspicion. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck said the plant is a top priority for both state and federal regulators. 

"There's still more work to be done. This is an important chapter, but the book is not completely written and we have to keep protecting the public's health," she said. "We are committed to cleaning the place up." 

Clean Air Coalition Director Erin Heaney, whose group was among the earliest and loudest critics of the facility, also said that her organization's work is far from over. 

"I don't think this is the end of the story. It's an important milestone, but the court system is only one fight," she said. "We were hoping for more money and more jail time, but this is just one victory out of many." 

More than 20 civil cases against Tonawanda Coke are still pending, including a mass tort action involving 268 residents. Although the government had requested that Skretny classify local residents as victims of the plant's crimes and give them rights to restitution, the judge refused to do so. 

Paul Saffrin, Tonawanda Coke's CEO and the grandson of founder J.D. Crane, did apologize for the violations in court on Wednesday and said the company will learn from them. 

"Tonawanda Coke sincerely regrets these mistakes," he said. "We tried, but we failed." 

Kamholz also offered a brief statement, and through his attorney, apologized to residents for the uncertainty about their health. 

"I do accept the consequences of my actions and my failure to act," he said. "When I say that it was an eye-opening experience, I mean that I realized I should have handled things differently, and if I wasn't able to, I should have walked away from the company. The limits on my position as environmental manager posed difficulties, but those limits should not be offered as an excuse."

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