Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — For its years of illegally dumping thousands of tons of hazardous chemicals into the air, a federal judge Wednesday ordered Tonawanda Coke to pay nearly $25 million — including $12.2 million for long-term health studies and soil testing — and sentenced a former employee to spend 366 days in prison, marking the culmination of a landmark criminal pollution trial.
The sentence brings vindication to resident activists who for years spoke of acrid, headache-inducing smells, black soot covering their homes and a slate of disturbingly common health problems. In announcing the sentences for Tonawanda Coke and its former environmental compliance manager, Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny acknowledged the harm the plant has inflicted on the community.
"For years, Tonawanda Coke has operated in violation of its permits," Skretny said. "The immediate effects of the crimes is not readily apparent or easily quantifiable ... but this community has suffered in unexplained medical illnesses, contaminated properties and unknown future effects."
Last year, the River Road plant and its environmental compliance manager Mark Kamholz were convicted of violating the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for releasing cancer-causing toxins into the air and dumping hazardous material on the ground. Skretny fined the company $5.5 million and $7 million for those violations, respectively.
Kamholz, 66, who was additionally convicted of obstruction of justice, was ordered to pay a fine of $20,000 and complete 100 hours of community service on top of his year-and-a-day prison sentence. He retired from the plant in December and will be allowed to voluntarily surrender to authorities at a date yet to be determined.
Reporters were made to watch portions of the sentencing remotely via a video feed but those inside the courtroom described Kamholz as stoic and emotionless as Skretny announced his sentence.