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Tonawanda Coke faces sentencing for environmental crime

Tonawanda Coke and its owner will be sentenced in federal court. In the preliminary sentencing report U.S. District Judge William Skretny said victims will not be allowed to seek restitution during Wednesday’s sentencing.

Tonawanda Coke was found guilty of violating the Clean Air Act in March 2013. Judge Skretny says there are other legal avenues where victims can seek compensation. The victims also will not be allowed to read testimony during Wednesday’s sentencing.

Community Organizer with the Clean Air Coalition Rebecca Newberry says victims have the potential to seek compensation through the various civil lawsuits against the River Road plant.

“In no way is the work done and I think the judge did a very good job mentioning that in his preliminary sentencing report. The thing that is very promising is that the community has been identified as a whole as something that has suffered an impact and therefore deserves a project or service,” said Newberry.

Founder of Citizen Science Community Resources Jackie James-Creedon says she was happy to hear that the judge will likely make Tonawanda Coke fund various community service projects as part of the sentencing.

“I am reading that as some of the projects that would answer some of our questions. For instance has Tonawanda Coke’s pollution migrated off site and into our community? How have we been affected as a community health wise?” said James-Creedon.

Prosecutors were looking to receive restitution under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act for those who’ve been affected by Tonawanda Coke releasing the cancer causing agent benzene into the air.

James-Creedon says it’s been a long battle, but she feels like neighbors are finally getting justice.

“It all started, because I was sick and I suspected that my illness had something to do with the environment. But, what I had learned was there were so many more people affected than me. I actually get choked up speaking about it, because for such a horrible thing that happened to our community we’re turning things around, we’re moving forward, and we’re making our community a better place to live, work and play,” said James-Creedon.

Newberry says after years of fighting the company, she can’t believe sentencing day is finally here.

“We’ll see what happens, but I’ve been on the phone with people from Tonawanda, Riverside, people who’ve worked at the plant, and work at the plant and it still seems a little surreal. It’s a surreal feeling,” said Newberry.  

Tonawanda Coke faces more than $200 million in fines and its environmental manager Mark Kamholz faces up to 75 years in prison.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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