Tonawanda News — The struggle to keep Tonawanda Coke’s potential sentencing fines local has turned political, as Mayoral candidate Rick Davis is criticizing incumbent Ron Pilozzi for failing to fight for the city’s portion of the funds.
Davis’ accusations come after Pilozzi brought up the matter at the City of Tonawanda’s last council meeting. Pilozzi suggested sending in a list of city-specific projects that could be funded with the fines if they are ordered to stay local.
Although the Clean Air Coalition conducted an intensive endeavor to prepare a list of possible projects to the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Attorney’s office, Pilozzi said none of the top 10 projects were “indigenous to the city.”
But Pilozzi said he is worried about sending in a list of projects now, as it could be years before the fines are a reality.
“I just want to make sure some time element is involved so that we are not making decisions now for something that his happening years from now,” Pilozzi said. “I don’t want to give people here hope that it is going to happen quickly. But maybe I’m wrong.”
But Davis said he thinks the submittal of projects would have to be done before Judge William Skretny makes his decision on Sept. 30, when the coke-making facility could face $200 million in fines for violating two federal environmental laws.
“Until called out on this recently, Pilozzi has not submitted anything and wants to continue to wait while other affected communities are way ahead of the power curve. They are standing up for their residents and doing what they were elected to do. It’s high time our mayor did the same,” Davis said.
Davis pointed to other communities, such as the Town of Tonawanda, that are in the process of preparing their own lists of environmentally friendly projects.
Robert Dimmig, the executive director of the town’s Development Corporation, said he is drafting a document with potential projects that ties into the overall vision for the town.
“I’m putting together not just a set of individual projects, but also how those projects tie into a larger vision for the community,” he said. “I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of the people at the U.S. Attorney’s Office who have this task, and think ‘if I were in those shoes, what would I want to see?’”
Dimmig also pointed to the uncertainty of the process. Although there have been environmental cases that have resulted in restitution orders, there is no specific guideline or application procedure.
“Everybody is trying to figure out the best way to proceed,” he said.
But Pilozzi said the city doesn’t have an engineer or planning office that the town does, and said they may still send in a list of projects before the sentencing date.
He also pointed to his support of the coalition’s polling project and the city’s hosting of a help session for residents writing victim impact statements to the attorney’s office.
“Davis’ letter is just an attempt to get some political juice out of the issue,” Pilozzi said. “I wouldn’t say that had we not taken all the steps we have.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagleyContact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley