Tonawanda News

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March 19, 2013

Feds rest against Tonawanda Coke

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — The government rested its case Monday afternoon against Tonawanda Coke and the plant’s environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, after almost three weeks of extremely technical and often worrying testimony. 

Monday’s milestone came after Jim Strickland, of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, testified as an expert on the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a law that the River Road company allegedly violated by improperly storing and disposing of hazardous waste.

Last week, government witnesses, including an Environmental Protection official and a former employee of the company, said the plant improperly recycled a byproduct of the coke-making process called coke-tar sludge.

Strickland backed up those claims Monday in federal court by testifying that the company was not mixing the sludge on the required concrete pad, thereby allowing the ground to potentially absorb the hazardous waste. 

“Ultimately, we figured out that it was being mixed on the coal field and not on the concrete pad,” he said of the recycling process, in which the sludge is mixed with coal before being put back into the coke ovens. 

During cross examination, Gregory Linsin, Tonawanda Coke’s attorney, continued the same line of questioning he’s been employing throughout the case by implying that the DEC and EPA are at fault for not catching the company’s alleged violations after years of inspections.

Linsin asked Strickland why, time and again, he said, the violations were missed. 

“It’s quite possible the inspector did not see the recycling process and did not fully understand,” Strickland said in response. “Inspections are a snapshot of what is going on at a facility ... they would not observe it if the process was not going on.” 

The government and defense team’s difference in opinion Monday points to the heart of the issues in the case. While government attorneys Aaaron Mango and Rocky Piaggione have argued that the Clean Air Act and RCRA are, at their heart, self-reporting statutes, Linsin and Kamholz’s attorney, Rod Personius, have said that the DEC and the EPA were at fault for not noticing the plant’s violations. The governmental agencies then unfairly targeted the Town of Tonawanda plant, Linsin has argued.

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