Niagara Gazette

May 10, 2013

Local officials want to keep Coke fines local

By Jessica Bagley
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — The Erie County legislature has unanimously approved a resolution in support of keeping fines from the sentencing of Tonawanda Coke local, legislator Kevin Hardwick said Friday.

“The pollutants emitted from Tonawanda Coke’s facility have greatly affected the health and wellbeing of residents in the community. The collected fines should remain in the City and Town of Tonawanda, Grand Island and the Riverside section of Buffalo,” Hardwick said. 

Tonawanda Coke could face up to $200 million in fines when sentenced in July. The plant, and its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, were found guilty in March of violating two federal environmental laws — the Clean Air Act and the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act. 

"As a result of the criminal actions of the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, the neighborhoods in the immediate area of the plant have suffered specific harms and measurable environmental damage," the resolution states. 

The resolution will be forwarded to United States Attorney William Hochul Jr. and Judge William Skretny, who presided over the case and will sentence the corporation.

The passing of the measure comes after Clean Air Coalition program director Rebecca Newberry and Cheryl McNett, who lives near the plant, testified before the legislature's Energy and Environment committee last week.

 "I told them about the stories that I've heard as an organizer ... the frustration and the illnesses in the community," Newberry said. "And Cheryl told stories about what is like to live right across from the plant, the smells she smells and the things her family has had to deal with." 

The Clean Air Coalition, and another organization, The Tonawanda Community Fund, have been working to gain support for similar resolutions across the area. Rep. Brian Higgins supports the measure, and the Town of Tonawanda Board, as well as the City of Tonawanda Council, have passed the resolution.

"It is important for the community to control the fines ... to prevent further issues like this," Newberry said. "It should be used in the way the community sees fit. The Tonawandas bore the brunt of this."

The Clean Air Coalition will be holding a community forum on May 23 to solicit ideas on how the money should be spent, Newberry said. 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley