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County legislators hear from Tonawanda Coke stakeholders as comment deadline for cleanup plan nears

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

With the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's public comment period for a Tonawanda Coke cleanup plan ending July 31, the Erie County Legislature's Government Affairs Committee welcomed representatives of organizations with an interest in the process to a Thursday hearing.

The committee's chairman, Legislator Kevin Hardwick, explained that because of the public comment deadline, the next and final opportunity for the full legislature to discuss and pass a resolution is next week. Thus, he wanted to bring in stakeholders to hear their thoughts and ask questions about the remediation plan put forth by the former Tonawanda Coke site's current owner, Riverview Innovation and Technology Campus, Inc.

"The air pollution is gone, thanks to the work citizen activists, along with government agencies like the DEC, like the EPA, but now we have to make sure that what's left, that legacy contamination that's there, that everybody agrees is a mess," Hardwick said. "Given the site's proximity to the Niagara River, we've got to make sure that this gets cleaned up right."

Earlier this year, the former Tonawanda Coke site was broken into four parcels, three of which are part of the State Superfund Program. The fourth is part of the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program. Riverview is covering the cleanup cost for the brownfield parcel while Honeywell International, the primary polluter of the property, is paying for remediation on the Superfund parcels.

Hardwick credited Jackie James Creedon and Citizen Science Community Resources for their work, and included the Clear Air Coalition among Thursday's guests. Speaking on behalf of the Coalition was Emily Terrana, who with her peers submitted recommendations including additional sampling, and a community advisory group.

"We have to remember that Tonawanda Coke when it was operational, and then Allied Chemical before the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, did not report every single spill, did not report every single fire, did not report every single issue," Terrana said. "And so we need to do our due diligence, to make sure that all of those things that are buried literally are excavated."

Tonawanda Coke suspended its operations in October 2018 and moved to close its facility. The company was found guilty in 2013 of violating the Federal Clean Air Act. One of its former executives spend a year in jail.

Riverview's Jon Williams spoke during Thursday's meeting of the desire to clean up the property and ready it for future use.

"It's in everybody's interest to make sure we find what the issues are on this site, and get them cleaned up, because we want the site to have 100 years of productive use, and we want it to be an economically sustainable part of real estate for the town, and to do that we have to clean it up. We have to get this right," he said. "We have no issue working together. My only caveat to that is that the DEC Brownfield agreement was set up at the Legislature of New York, to make this process move right. They did it because they didn't want sites languishing in the EPA system for decades."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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