Tonawanda News

July 3, 2013

City discusses Tonawanda Coke fines

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The Tonawanda council discussed sending Judge William Skretny the city’s own recommendation on how Tonawanda Coke’s potential sentencing fines should be spent if the funds are ordered to stay local. 

The discussion comes as the city, the Town of Tonawanda and and environmental activists position themselves to stake a claim to a portion of what’s expected to be a large federal fine against Tonawanda Coke.

The coke-making facility faces a possible $200 million or more in fines when sentenced for violating two federal environmental laws. Mayor Ron Pilozzi suggested the idea at Tuesday night’s work session in light of the Clean Air Coalition’s weeklong community poll on how the possible fines should be spent. 

As part of the nonprofit’s effort, more than 500 residents voted on 15 possible environmental projects that would benefit the areas affected by Tonawanda Coke. The top 10 projects were revealed at a Clean Air tally late last month. 

“I don’t think there was anything specific and indigenous to the city,” Pilozzi said. 

Pilozzi said the city could conduct its own polling, or wait and see if fines are imposed before sending in a recommendation — an option he preferred. 

“It might be years before this comes about, and what we want now might change by then,” he said. 

But Councilman Richard Slisz disagreed.

“If you don’t make the decision now, he is going to issue a ruling, and then the decision will be made and that will be it,” he said. “They destroyed this community and the after effects will bring years of cleanup, I’m sure there is a lot of contaminated soil ... it’s going to be another Spaulding Fibre.” 

The council also discussed plans for the former Spaulding site, which is ready for development as a business park. 

Talks Tuesday centered on whether the planning board or the council would issue final reviews of site plans for the property. Per the current ordinance, the planning board has the final review, but the council has informally decided to change the code at its next meeting. 

“We are the elected body, we should have the final say,” Slisz said.

The site plan for Simmers Crane Design & Services is already complete, officials said.

The company, which is owned by Pollock Research & Design, currently rents an 11,000-square foot facility on Fire Tower Road in the Town of Tonawanda, but is moving to Spaulding Park in order to expand.

The business plans to build 20,000-square-foot structure on 4.86 acres of the property. The project is estimated to cost $1.7 million, and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency has approved $388,000 in tax breaks to the company for the construction. 

The council also approved the replacement of the wading pool’s liner, which recreation officials discovered was badly damaged.

“We’ve already lost a week of the season,” Amanda Lofft, the director of Parks and Recreation said. “The liners are supposed to last for 12 to 15 years, but we have had this once since 1989. It was splitting at the seams.”

The replacement will cost $23,000 and will likely be installed shortly after the July 4 holiday.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLBagley