By Jessica Bagley firstname.lastname@example.org
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — The town board sided with its residents Monday night and passed a resolution opposing the reopening of Amigone Funeral Home’s crematory at its property on Sheridan Drive.
“I do believe this is a quality of life issue for our residents who have experienced smoke, lingering odor and other issues,” Councilwoman Lisa Chimera said. “I think it is very important that we as a town board support our residents on this.”
The crematory has been closed since July 2012, when Amigone signed an agreement with the state attorney general’s office to halt operations for six months after residents spoke out about strong odors, smoke and illnesses that they attributed to the crematory.
Since the contract expired in January, residents have voiced their concern about the possibility of Amigone reopening the crematory. Rebecca Newberry, a coalition organizer, said she and residents have been working with the board to craft the resolution.
The measure, passed by a 4-1 vote, opposes the resumption of the crematory’s operations at the current property, located at 2600 Sheridan Drive, unless the company takes efforts to address residents’ complaints.
“Crematory operators tried technical modifications, including raising and lowering the stack, installing sound panels and removing plastic coverings from cremation caskets. However, resident complaints of strong odors, noise and soot persisted,” the resolution states. “In additional to technical modifications, the crematory operators have also unsuccessfully tried to find new locations for the crematory.”
A large group of residents attended Monday’s meeting and thanked the board for their support.
“We are not against Amigone. They do a good service for the community .... it’s just the crematory,” Neal Hodgson, a resident who lives nearby, said. “It has been a good summer, being able to keep our windows open and be in our backyards.
Councilman John Bargnesi, who voted against the resolution, said he voted against the measure because Amigone has followed state and local laws.
“Our role is to enforce the New York state law that is handed down to us,” he said. “If there are no violations and no laws being broken, I am not sure what we are enforcing.”
In response to Monday’s efforts, Amigone’s spokesman, Kevin Keenan, released a statement reminding residents that the crematory is in full compliance with environmental regulations.
“Last year, the Amigone Family voluntarily and temporarily agreed to halt operations at our Sheridan Drive location in a good faith effort to work with the neighborhood and address its concerns. But any statement that implies the operation is not in full compliance with Department of Environmental Conservation regulations is false,” the statement reads.
The statement also said that Amigone is still reviewing all of its options. The company has developed several plans to move the operation. Most recently, Amigone proposed moving the crematory 300 feet down its property to the intersection of Sheridan Drive and Parker Boulevard, but residents who live nearby the company protested the plan and said the move would result in the same odor and emission problems.
Last week, ahead of a public hearing set for Monday, Amigone withdrew its request with the Erie County Legislature, which would have had to designate the area as cemetery land before the move.
“After meeting with the neighbors and hearing from people who had canvassed the neighborhood, Amigone determined that the neighbors are not supportive of the proposal. Since the neighbors did not support of the move the request by Amigone for a designation of cemetery land was withdrawn,” Robert Knoer, an attorney representing Amigone, said in an email.
Anthony Amigone Sr. said in a statement released last week that he has no immediate plans to reopen the crematory. The company is considering a number of different options, the statement reads.
Knoer confirmed that Amigone is also appealing a judge’s decision that upheld a state cemetery board ruling prohibiting Amigone from moving the crematory from its Sheridan Drive property.
In the state’s determination, the board said that combined funeral entities and crematories were prohibited in a decision in 1998, but Amigone’s Sheridan Drive location was grandfathered in.
“This provision only permits the funeral entity to continue to operate the same crematory it was operating before that date,” the board stated.
The appeal will be heard in February, Knoer said.
Newberry said Monday that she hopes the board’s support will assist residents as the process continues.
“We are looking forward to working with the town on a way to evaluate the complaints if the crematory does reopen,” she said.
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.