Tonawanda News — Residents here know well by now the story behind Tonawanda Coke. Years of health complaints, the long struggle for meaningful regulatory oversight and, finally, vindication in the form of a criminal conviction for grossly polluting the air and ground.
Tonawanda Coke and its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, were found guilty in March of violating two federal laws, the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, when a federal jury determined that they dumped hazardous waste on the ground and spewed thousands of tons of carcinogenic chemicals into the air. The defendants face a possible 75 years in prison and more than $200 million in fines when they’re sentenced next month.
The final chapter on JD Crane, the man who owns the facility at the center of the controversy, hasn’t been written. Crane wasn’t charged in the 19-count indictment against his company and his name wasn’t uttered once during the 30-day trial. But an extensive review of his business practices in five other communities yields some alarming findings.
While activists and politicians alike are lining up to decide how to spend the money, a Tonawanda News investigation sought to find out how other communities that hosted Crane-owned coke foundries fared in their fight to be made whole. The result is shockingly consistent — a string of broken laws and broken promises that add up to millions spent cleaning up mess after mess Crane left behind.
If Crane’s business past is any indication of Tonawanda Coke’s future, locals may be in for years of expensive cleanup.
Erie Coke: A too familiar tale
Crane’s plant in Erie, Pa., is Tonawanda’s only sister facility still in operation. The plants are two of just 19 coke-making facilities in the nation, and their histories are closely linked.