Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo administers grants to 14 community-selected environmental and improvement projects
√ Nearly 3,000 ballots cast by eligible residents guided grant awards
Gov. Kathy Hochul and Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday awarded $909,384 to 14 environmental benefit projects for the Tonawanda community as part of a previous settlement over environmental violations at the former Tonawanda Coke Corp. facility.
The grants, administered by the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, range from $5,000 to $250,000 and will go directly to community-improvement and environmental projects selected based on community preference determined by a communitywide balloting process.
"With remediation efforts underway at the former Tonawanda Coke facility, we are making Western New York stronger by protecting its most valuable resources," Hochul said. "The Tonawanda community has been unified throughout this process and now has the opportunity to reimagine and restore itself through these community-driven environmental and improvement projects. After years of pollution, there is still more work to be done, but this is a major step forward in building a healthier and safer community."
For years, the Tonawanda Coke Corp. (TCC) violated state and federal environmental laws. TCC was required to pay a civil penalty and allocate $1 million to a grant program – the Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefit Program (EBP) – designed to protect Tonawanda's environment and public health. Under the terms of the settlement, New York state has the fiduciary responsibility to make the final grant awards to project applicants.
James said, "For far too long, the Tonawanda community suffered at the hands of greedy corporations that put profits over the wellbeing of the community and the environment. These grants will help restore and revive Tonawanda's environment for generations to come. Protecting our environment as well as the health and safety of our communities is not optional, and any corporation that violates those terms will be held accountable by my office. I thank the DEC for their collaboration on this important program."
The Tonawanda community is geographically defined as the Town of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, and Village of Kenmore, as well as the southern portion of Grand Island and Buffalo's Riverside neighborhood.
Grants are divided into small-to-medium scale projects, which range from $5,000 to $25,000, and larger-scale projects, which range from $25,001 up to $250,000.
Small-to-medium project winners are:
√ Citizen Coalition for Wildlife and Environment, "Plant for Nature! Ecological Gardening for Community Health and Native Plant Giveaway," $11,900;
√ Citizen Science Community Resources, "Community Victory Garden," $24,908;
√ Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, "Subsidized Community Rain Barrel/Compost Bin Sale," $25,000;
√ Kenmore Village Improvement Society, "Treasure Our Trees and Save the Bees," $10,000;
√ Town of Tonawanda Public Library, "Rain Garden and Welcoming Outdoor Public Space at Kenilworth Library," $9,000;
√ Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Union Free School District, "Tree Planting and Beautification at Edison Elementary School," $6,359;
√ City of Tonawanda Public Library, "City of Tonawanda Public Library Community Reading Garden," $20,000;
√ Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, "Senior Focused E-Waste Collection," $25,000;
√ Thomas Edison PTA, "Thomas Edison Parent-Teacher Association Community Garden," $25,000; and
√ Project Pride of North Tonawanda, "Manhattan Street Rain Garden Improvements," $12,440.
Large-scale project winners are:
√ Town of Tonawanda, "Kenney Field Park Multi-Use Trail, Inclusive Playground and Mural Wall," $250,000;
√ Western New York Land Conservancy, "Creating New Nature Preserves, Improving Public Access, Restoring Wildlife Habitat, and Offering Environmental Education," $160,777;
√ The Clean Air Coalition, "Organizing Our Environmental Justice Values in Action," $99,000; and
√ Niagara River Greenway Commission, "Building Stewardship and Strengthening Pride of the Greater Tonawanda Community," $230,000.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, "Three years ago, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation worked with our state, local and federal partners to permanently shutter Tonawanda Coke to protect this community and the environment. Driven by New York state's enforcement actions to hold this once-notorious polluter accountable, the Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefit Program will support more than a dozen unique environmental projects selected by local residents to benefit the entire Tonawanda community."
Cara Matteliano, senior director, policy and strategic partnerships, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, said, "We are grateful for the leadership of the Tonawanda Community EBP's advisory panel for their enthusiasm and engagement throughout this entire process. We are also grateful to Gov. Hochul, Attorney General James, and DEC for partnering with this group of Tonawanda residents, and empowering them to make decisions to ensure their community was fully involved in the program and heard every step of the way. This community-led project is a shining example of an effective and meaningful way to connect people, ideas and resources to improve lives in Western New York."
The Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo (CFGB) administers the grant program and established a community advisory group to assist in the design and implementation of the program, including helping to determine community preference. DEC, the Office of the Attorney General, and CFGB collaborated with a 12-member community advisory committee, comprised of community residents, in all elements of the program's development and implementation. The granting process included soliciting proposals, a review by a panel of independent experts, and broader community engagement.
Nearly 3,000 Tonawanda community residents voted to pick their preferred grant recipients though a communitywide balloting process. The final projects selected by the state directly mirror the results of the balloting process – which can be found here. The grant awards also reflect CFGB recommendations.
Thomas Piwtorak, Tonawanda resident and Tonawanda Community EBP advisory panel member, said, "I greatly enjoyed participating on the Tonawanda Community EBP advisory panel working alongside the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo and the state to develop and spread the word to the community about this great benefits program. Working virtually with so many environmentally minded local volunteers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging, but the results of our efforts and the positive impact it will have on our community are very rewarding. I thank the efforts of everyone involved, and especially the NYS DEC and NYS OAG, for their support. I look forward to the positive impacts these grants will have on the Tonawanda community for years to come."
Jill O'Malley, Village of Kenmore resident and member of the community advisory panel, said, "I am extremely proud of the inclusive, transparent process that this panel considered during our time together. There were solid investments of time and energy by the panel participants in creating the guidelines for this funding initiative. The process was thoughtful and well-rounded to inspire creative project proposals and maximize community involvement. I thank the state for partnering with the Tonawanda community, and am grateful to see this money be reinvested in such meaningful ways."
Congressman Brian Higgins said, "Tonawanda Coke was a serial polluter whose reckless actions impacted the health of nearby residents and neighborhoods. While – thanks to residents that stood up and demanded it – Tonawanda Coke is now gone, this community is left with remnants of the company's destructive past. This begins a new chapter for the Tonawandas, Grand Island and Riverside – one that builds opportunities for residents to create and enjoy clean and green public spaces."
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, "The Tonawanda Coke Community Benefit Program was thoughtfully designed to have the community where Tonawanda Coke was located select projects that will benefit the local environment. Erie County is looking forward to working on these projects while, at the same time, we are working with our partners in town and state government to ensure the site is cleaned up."
Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger said, "The funding that will be provided to the town and to nonprofits in the town will go towards improving the physical and mental health of our community for decades to come, and their impact cannot be understated in my opinion. I also wish to express the town's appreciation to The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the DEC for looking out for the best interests of the town residents."
The former Tonawanda Coke site is being remediated under the New York State Superfund and Brownfield Cleanup programs, with DEC oversight to ensure the cleanup protects public health and the environment. For more information, visit the DEC website “DEC Announces New Agreements to Comprehensively Address Former Tonawanda Coke Facility Contamination - NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation.”
For more information about the Tonawanda Community EBP, including the process, applicants' proposals and the results of the community preferencing, visit TonawandaFund.org.