Niagara Gazette

Local News

March 17, 2014

Tonawanda Coke to fund community service project

Chief U.S. District Judge William Skretny will require Tonawanda Coke to fund a community service project despite the plant's objection, the court's presentence decision states.

"This court fully intends to impose, as a term of Tonawanda Coke's probation, a requirement that this defendant fund one more of the proposed evaluative projects recommended by the community," the decision, which was filed Friday afternoon, states.

Last year, a federal jury found the plant and its environmental manager Mark Kamholz guilty of violating the Clean Air Act and the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act. They face more than $200 million in fines and 75 years in prison when they are sentenced at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Since the verdict was delivered, residents and environmental organizations have been pushing to keep those fines local, and U.S. prosecutors have requested that the plant fund nearly $12.8 million in community service projects as part of its sentence.

The list of recommended projects include an $11.4 million study on the health effects and coke oven emissions from Tonawanda Coke, a $700,000 air and soil testing project, an industrial pollution prevention initiative, a citizen science lending library, a toxic education project and a tree planting program.

In its decision, the court stated that an evaluative project would aid the community in determining the plant's impact.

"The court therefore finds that, just as a requirement that a defendant remediate the physical result of its conduct is appropriate, a term of probation obligating Tonawanda Coke to help community members understand the effects — or lack thereof — of the pollutants to which they have been exposed is also appropriate," the decision states.

The document also includes Skretny's rejection of prosecutors' request that residents be classified under victims of Tonawanda Coke's crimes pursuant to the Crime Victims' Rights Act. The designation would have given victims the opportunity to speak at sentencing and the right to restitution for harm caused by Tonawanda Coke. 

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