Tonawanda News — J.D. Crane, the owner of Tonawanda Coke, has died, sources said Wednesday. He was 92.
Crane started in the coke business at a young age, working as the chief operating officer at Donner Hanna in south Buffalo before taking ownership of Tonawanda Coke in 1978. After decades in the business, his grandson, Paul Saffrin, recently took over as the company’s CEO.
During his career, Crane also owned Erie Coke in Erie, Pa., as well as four other plants across the nation that are now closed. The River Road and Erie plants, which burn coal to make coke — an ingredient in the steel-making process, are two of only 19 coke plants left in the nation.
Tonawanda Coke was the subject of a federal trial in 2013, but Crane was not charged in the indictment and he never appeared in court. After a 30-day trial, the plant, and its environmental manager Mark Kamholz, were found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act and the Resource Recovery and Conservation Act.
In March, Chief U.S. Judge William Skretny sentenced the plant to pay $12.5 million in fines, and ordered it to fund $12.2 million in community service projects. Tonawanda Coke has appealed both its sentence and the conviction.
Kamholz, 66, who was additionally convicted of obstruction of justice, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $20,000 and complete 100 hours of community service.
Complaints about the plant’s emissions began pouring in more than a decade ago, and many criticized Crane. But he talked directly to the media only once, granting an interview to the Tonawanda News in 2009.
During that interview, Crane argued that he had been working with state and federal environmental officials to ensure that the plant was in compliance with regulations —even though he didn’t speak publicly about the plant or meet with residents.