Tonawanda News

November 7, 2013

Attorney rails against suit

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — An attorney representing Amigone Funeral home argued Wednesday that the state’s suit against the company is premature due to its lack of intent to restart crematory operations at the current site in the Town of Tonawanda.

“Obviously this courtroom is full of people interested in this case, but Amigone is not asking to reopen,” attorney Robert Knoer said, acknowledging the two dozen town residents who were in the courtroom Wednesday. “We are trying to move, and we would only reopen if the Department of Environmental Conservation and the attorney general’s office were satisfied.”

His statements came during motion hearings before State Supreme Court Justice Henry Nowak Wednesday morning. Knoer had submitted a motion asking the court to dismiss the suit, which seeks to permanently prevent the reopening of the crematory. 

But Jane Cameron, of the New York State Attorney General’s Office, argued that the injunction would prevent against the company conducting future harm against the nearby residents, who have complained of soot, odor and noise from the crematory for more than 20 years. The suit alleges that Amigone is unable to operate the crematory without violating state air pollution and nuisance laws.

“These residents are entitled to closure,” she said. 

Much of the discussion centered on the assurance of discontinuance agreement, which Amigone and the state signed in July 2012. The contract specified a six-month shutdown period. Per the agreement, Amigone is also required to give the state two weeks notice if they plan to restart crematory operations, a stipulation that is still in effect today, despite the expiration of the contract.

At the time the agreement was signed, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he reserved the right to file a suit if Amigone resumed the crematory’s use without hiring an expert to improve emission controls. 

Although Amigone has not yet given notice of reopening, Cameron said the 2012 agreement does not bar the state from filing the suit.

“The state was fully prepared to litigate this matter then, and as a courtesy, we met with Amigone,” she said. “When it expired, it placed the state back where it was previous to the agreement — poised to litigate.”

Amigone’s statements to the press and public about their plans to reopen concerned the state enough to file the suit, she said.

“They awoke the state’s interest and public enforcement authority,” Cameron said.

But Knoer argued that Amigone is still in a waiting period and is still attempting to move the operation. Last year, the New York State Cemetery Board denied the company’s request to move the crematory, and the State Supreme Court upheld the decision. Amigone is appealing, and the case is set to be heard in February. 

“We are doing everything we can to move, which we think is a win-win situation for everyone,” he said, noting that Amigone has also begun looking into improving the technology at the site to decrease emissions. “We are here because we think this is premature.”

Nowak has reserved decision on the matter.

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