Local leaders, organizers urge residents effected by Tonawanda Coke to tell their storyby jmaloni
Coalition reminds community of July 1 deadline for impact statements
Elected, community and business leaders are reminding local residents and companies of the opportunity to share their story with the judge considering the sentence in the federal case against Tonawanda Coke.
On March 28, a jury found Tonawanda Coke guilty of violations linked to the release of benzene, which is a known carcinogen. The case, handled under the leadership of Western New York District U.S. Attorney William Hochul, is only the second successful criminal trial against the Clean Air Act in the nation. Sentencing for Tonawanda Coke and the company's manager of environmental control, also found guilty, is set for July 15. Individuals, organizations or businesses that believe they have been impacted by the company's negligence are invited to submit statements to the judge through the U.S. attorney's office. The deadline to submit an impact statement is July 1.
A team of stakeholders working together on behalf of residents in the greater Tonawanda-Grand Island region joined together to inform those in the community of the opportunity to provide personal impact accounts, which will be presented to the judge as he prepares to make a decision on sentencing. Participants include: Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Caruana as well as various town leaders; City of Tonawanda Mayor Ron Pilozzi; Grand Island Supervisor Mary Cooke; Congressman Brian Higgins; Assemblyman Robin Schimminger; Erie County Legislator Kevin Hardwick; Tonawanda Community Fund; Citizens United for Justice; the Wellness Institute; Town of Tonawanda Development Corp.; and the Ken-Ton Chamber of Commerce.
Tonawanda Community Fund organizer and Ken-Ton resident Jackie James-Creedon said, "A few years ago, a few of my neighbors and I became citizen scientists and collected an air sample not far from here because our air stunk and we wondered if this was why so many of us were sick. What we found that day was worse than we had ever imagined. We found benzene, a highly carcinogenic air toxin. A community and its people become stronger, healthier and more sustainable when they endure and overcome hardships. We have indeed suffered unnecessarily due to the negligence of this company. We can't turn back the hands of time and change what has already been done, but we will persevere together and make our community a better place to live, work and play."
"This verdict was reached because Tonawanda residents stood up and fought back," Higgins said. "Now we are asking for those who have paid the price in terms of health and hardship to come forward again and be heard as the legal system weighs penalties associated with the crime against this community."
"Tonawanda Coke has given a "black eye" to our community," Caruana said. "We pride ourselves on being a great place to live, work and play. Tonawanda Coke's violations are a direct contradiction to the quality of life that our town leaders try to instill on a daily basis. Many people think that Tonawanda Coke is synonymous with the Town of Tonawanda. We have already lost potential new businesses and new residents because of this association, despite the fact that most of the 20 square miles of the Town of Tonawanda is nowhere near the Tonawanda Coke plant! While Tonawanda Coke's actions have clearly tarnished the reputation of our community, more importantly, their actions have had a detrimental impact on the lives of our residents who live near their facility. The health-related problems and illnesses that our residents have endured, and will continue to endure, because of the blatant criminal actions of this corporation, must be what is first and foremost on everyone's mind."
"Over the years, many residents have been affected by the health and environmental consequences of Tonawanda Coke's negligence," Schimminger said. "While the media has reported on the air quality studies, the trial and community concerns, the stories of individuals and their families have, for the most part, remained in the background. Now is the time for these silent witnesses to share their experiences with the judge, who will determine the price Tonawanda Coke must pay for its criminal actions."
"The jury's verdict confirmed what the neighbors of Tonawanda Coke had been saying all along," Hardwick said. "Now it is up to Judge Skretny and the Justice Department to give these long-suffering citizens the justice they deserve."
Residents can either write their own letter or the Tonawanda Community Fund has also developed a printable form to provide details and ease the process of submitting a statement. The form is available through Higgins' website at: http://higgins.house.gov/. Residents should write their personal impact statements or complete the printable form and either mail them as directed or place them in drop boxes made available at the municipal buildings in the Town of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda and Grand Island.
Additional information is also available on the U.S. Attorney's Office website at: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nyw/.