Tonawanda News

October 2, 2013

STATE SUES AMIGONE

By Jessica Bagley jessica.bagley@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit Tuesday to permanently prevent the reopening of the Amigone Funeral Home crematory in the Town of Tonawanda.

“The Amigone crematory has cast a shadow over this Tonawanda community for too long,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “The crematory’s offensive nuisance emissions have long plagued residents, interfering with such basic pleasures as opening windows and enjoying backyards. This lawsuit will reassure this community that the Amigone crematory will never again pollute their air and disrupt their lives.”

The suit, which cites alleged violations of specific environmental laws for the first time, comes after more than 20 years of residents’ complaints concerning odors, soot and noise from the Sheridan Drive crematory. 

The crematory has been closed since July 2012, when the owners signed an agreement with the attorney general’s office agreeing to halt operations for six months. At the time the agreement was signed, 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. 

After unsuccessfully attempting to move the crematory to another location, the Amigone family “recently signaled its intention to restart operations,” the statement from the attorney general’s office said. 

“Although Amigone has taken public steps to recommence operations at its current site, it has provided no information regarding retaining an expert or developing engineering plans to eliminate the crematory’s objectionable and illegal emissions,” the statement reads. 

As a result, the suit was filed Tuesday in Erie County Court. The suit charges that Amigone is unable to operate the crematory without violating state air pollution laws and creating a nuisance for nearby residents. The suit seeks to permanently prevent Amigone from reopening the crematory, and also seeks monetary penalties against the company for repeated violations of pollution regulations.

Amigone repeatedly violated air quality limits, crematory ash was found on a nearby residential property and noise caused a nuisance for nearby property owners, the suit alleges.

Robert Knoer, who did not return phone calls for a comment Tuesday, is representing Amigone. The parties are set to appear before Judge Diane Devlin on Oct. 31 for motions.

Residents gathered on a street nearby the crematory Tuesday to celebrate.

“For it to be permanently shut down would be great for our neighborhood ... we’ve lived here since 1967, and the crematory has changed our way of life,” Bill Pilkington, of Werkley Drive, said.

His wife, Geraldine, said she often had to clean off their home’s windowsills and furniture, which became covered with ash.

“Imagine inviting people over and not knowing whether he was going to fire it up or not,” she said, citing the smell that came from the crematory. “We haven’t been this excited in a very long time.”

Although complaints began when Amigone opened the crematory in 1991, residents said that conditions worsened when the incinerator was replaced in 2009. The Department of Environmental Conservation notified the crematory of emission limit violations in May 2012.

“The DEC referred this matter to the Attorney General for enforcement when it became clear that despite Amigone’s efforts, the crematory was causing a continuing violation of DEC laws and regulations,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. 

After Amigone signed the six-month agreement with the attorney general, the owners began attempting to move to another location. But the New York State Cemetery Board then 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.

Rebecca Newberry, of the Clean Air Coalition, which worked to organize the residents in the area, thanked Schneiderman for his efforts. 

“For years, the crematory’s neighbors were forced to live with the facility’s offensive odors, dark smoke and loud noise,” she said. “We thank the attorney general’s office for defending the quality of life of these families.” 

Owners of the crematory did not return calls for comment Tuesday, but Anthony Amigone Sr. responded to complaints during an interview in July.

“We have never had any body parts or smell problems,” he said. “It seems like this is a bandwagon cause. I practically live in this building. My kids are here, my grandchildren work in this building ... we can tell them some of the facts that aren’t dreamt up by people.” 

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