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Clean Air Coalition seeking Superfund status for Tonawanda Coke site

Mike Desmond

Getting Washington to come in and clean up the former Tonawanda Coke is the way to go, according to opinions expressed at a meeting Thursday night sponsored by the Clean Air Coalition.Cleaning up the River Road industrial site is going to take time and cost a lot of money. Those at the meeting said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency brings lots of cash and knowledge to a designation as a federal Superfund site. The federal agency is also in a position to force owners and prior owners of the site to help pay for a cleanup.

"There's more enforcement with the Superfund," said Clean Air Coalition member Maria Tisby. "EPA is already on site, equal has enforcement site. With the brownfield, it's voluntary and, basically, with the brownfield, it means the polluters are getting a tax break for cleaning up the site they should have cleaned up, to begin with, and they can also walk away any time they feel like it."

Here, it is Honeywell, corporate successor to Allied Chemical. Honeywell sold to Tonawanda Coke. Clean Air Coalition member Gary Schulenberg said area residents are seeing the effect of the plant closing: cleaner air.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"That's really a preliminary step because that was an immediate danger cause that would drift out on the wind and anybody down wind was concerned with their health," he said. "That's taken care of. Now, as far as remediation of the site, that's a whole different ball game."

Local government is not directly involved in the cleanup, but several levels of local government want the site cleaned up so it can get a new use and see people employed on the site for a new use. Tonawanda Coke is one of several town employers who have closed, costing jobs and tax base.

"It's a balance and we'll see what happens over the next few years, but there's a concern for the taxpayers, at least the ones I have talked to in the last couple months when we were out talking to people," said Tonawanda Town Board candidate Carl Szarek. "Lot of working-class folks that would like to see a factory there, a plant there, some sort of a facility that promotes employment."

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