Former TCC Site Brownfield Application is “Incomplete, Premature, and Not in the Best Interest of the Public”

Clean Air Coalition Calls on NYS DEC To Reject Tonawanda Coke Brownfield Application, Citing The Application is “Incomplete, Premature, and Not in the Best Interest of the Public”


Clean Air submitted comments to the NYS DEC for the former Tonawanda Coke Facility by Riverview Innovation and Technology Campus, including two official organizational comments and comments written by Clean Air members.

In New York State, there are two major pathways for remediation. The Superfund Program is a robust enforceable remediation program, the New York State Brownfields program is a tax credit program for developers. If the DEC approves the application, taxpayers will reimburse developers for remediation costs, Honeywell avoids further enforcement action and cost recovery, there is no mandate for workers to make prevailing wage.

If approved as is, the NYSDEC will warp the purpose of the Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP), originally intended as a pathway to return blighted properties to the tax rolls. This application sets a dangerous precedent, reducing the program to a loophole for legally recognized primary polluters to avoid their financial and environmental responsibility. Clean Air members, and the residents of Western New York deserve a full and comprehensive remediation, which is not what current application seeks.” 

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Operating the company until the late 70s under their predecessor Allied Chemical, Honeywell is responsible for a large portion of legacy waste at the Tonawanda Coke site. To cuts costs, Honeywell hired lobby firm e3communications last year, and  lobbied New York State to agree to a Brownfield designation.

Jon Williams, owner of the former American Axle site in the City of Buffalo, purchased the property through bankruptcy late last year for $1.00. William’s has been highly criticized for his lack of urgency in remediating the polluted site in the Delavan Grider community, and as the Western New York’s top donor for Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign. 

Clean Air members, concerned with the application’s inadequacy and illegitimacy, requested the DEC hold a public hearing in early December. After weeks of no response, with the comment period closing, members decided to host a meeting for fellow community members to share their concerns about the future of the site and who should pay for remediation. The meeting was held this past Wednesday, was attended by over 50 residents and members of organized labor.

New York State is about to make a decision that will impact the lives of Western New Yorkers for generations. We are disrupting this process because we don’t want a tragic national story. We want this story to be one of our community’s resilient transition. A transition where we achieve a full comprehensive remediation of this site. A transition where the polluter pays for the harm they have done to us. A transition where remediation workers receive prevailing wages to sustain their families. Jon William’s plan does not lay out that vision. If this application is approved as is, this project will cause our community great harm,” said Rebecca Newberry, Executive Director of the Clean Air Coalition.

“When profits are the driving force, we get clean up projects that will be bid based on how little cleaning we do and how little we pay the workers. This leads to unsafe conditions for the workers and for the community. When prevailing wage and public open bidding are attached, both required by the Supefund program, we get workers that are trained and compensated well and workers that care about the work that they do for their community and neighbors. What better way to heal the damage caused by Tonawanda Coke than to let our local building trades workers clean up this mess for their families and neighbors. Let us do the right thing. Let us clean up their mess because it’s the right thing to do, not because someone else can make a profit off it, that is truly adding insult to injury.” said Gary Swain, Business Manager of I.U.O.E. Local 17.

Clean Air’s comment goes on to state “Given the long history of criminal environmental violations that have occurred on this property, the fact that the property is located in an environmental justice community, is subject to current ongoing removal action by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and there exists a viable Principle Responsible Party (PRP), we request that only after this property has been determined to be found not to be a significant threat to human health or the environment should it be considered for a tax incentive program: such as the Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP).

January 18th marks the final day of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) 30-day comment period on the application. The public can still comment by phone: Call Benjamin McPherson at 716-851-7220 or by email to with a carbon copy to with the Subject line: Public comment on Riverview Innovation and Technology Campus, Site ID# C915353. All comments must be received by January 18th 2020.

Tonawanda Coke was found guilty in March 2013 of breaking 14 federal laws under the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Mark Kamholz was found guilty on the same counts and an additional count of obstruction of justice.

Since the EPA’s enforcement action, there was a reported 92% reduction in benzene from the continuous air monitor at Grand Island Blvd. and a 68% reduction at the air monitor on Brookside Terrace. The company was fined $12.5 million in fines, 5 years of probation, and to pay nearly $12 million for future health and environmental studies. Mark Kamholz was sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in prison for plus a $20,000 fine and a supervised release after serving the term.

In the fall of 2018, the Tonawanda Coke company was found guilty of violating their criminal probation related to a 2014 environmental criminal sentence. Shortly after this verdict, the company’s leadership filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company ceased operations at the facility on October 14, 2018 and permanently vacated the site. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently on  site managing immediate risks to human health and the environment


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