Tonawanda News

Local News

June 21, 2013

Looking to the future

Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — In less than a month, Judge William Skretny will have the authority to sentence Tonawanda Coke and its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, to pay more than $200 million in fines for violating the Clean Air Act and the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act.

Whether Skretny will impose any fines, and whether he will order those funds to go back to the community, will remain unknown until the scheduled sentencing date of July 15. 

But if Skretny does respond to politicians’ and activists’ calls to keep the money local, residents will be ready.

On Thursday, the Clean Air Coalition concluded a community poll on how to spend the potential fines with a celebratory tally at the town’s Boy and Girls Club on Riverdale Avenue.

The event has been in the works since the end of March, when a federal jury found the River Road coke-making facility guilty of emitting cancer-causing toxins into the air and land. 

Over the past week, more than 560 people reported to 12 different locations to review possible environmental projects and vote for the ones they felt were most deserving. Voters, who were able to choose five projects, were given a ballot booklet at the polls that provided descriptions for 15 different proposals. 

“Residents brainstormed many projects at a large community assembly, and then fine-tuned these ideas into detailed projects that could reduce the risks of toxins and improve health in their neighborhoods,” a statement from the nonprofit reads. 

The coalition used a participatory budgeting practice that originated in Brazil to guide the voting process. Rebecca Newberry, a Clean Air organizer, said participatory budgeting is now being used in common council districts in New York City and in Chicago to determine how taxpayer money should be spent.

As part of that process, a small group of residents used an Environmental Protection Agency criterion to whittle down 191 project ideas that were proposed at a community brainstorming meeting at the end of May.

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