Victims of Tonawanda Coke won’t be compensated at sentencing

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Tonawanda Coke and its environmental manager will be sentenced Wednesday for violating the Clean Air Act, but victims who hoped to receive compensation for enduring years of pollution will not be receiving a judgment in their favor.

Court documents filed last Friday detail some of what Wednesday’s sentencing will include. Though Judge William Skretny says he understand the extreme importance this case holds for the communities of Tonawanda and Grand Island, who feel pollution from Tonawanda Coke has led to illnesses, he will not order restitution for the victims.

Air testing in 2009 showed benzene levels 75 times higher than state and federal laws permit. Prosecutors argued that the way Tonawanda Coke allowed benzene and other chemicals to spew from the plant amounted to criminal activity.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron Mango said, “They put chemicals into the air that shouldn’t have been in the air, and dumped hazardous material onto the ground that shouldn’t be on the ground.”

But citing other court cases that have dragged on for years, and noting that Tonawanda Coke is already facing several lawsuits for victim compensation, Judge Skretny wrote, “Extended sentencing proceedings here could cause undue delay in the prosecution of those proceedings, to the detriment of all parties involved.”

Many had hoped to see the company severely punished for years of contaminating the surrounding neighborhoods and similarly hoped its environmental manager, Mark Kamholz, would face a lengthy prison term. But court documents indicate Judge Skretny is considering a sentencing range of 33 to 41 months behind bars.

But there is some good news for activists in the sentencing. It appears the judge will impose community service projects on the company. He wrote, “This Court fully intends to impose, as a term of Tonawanda Coke’s probation, a requirement that this Defendant fund one or more of the proposed evaluative projects recommended by the community.”

Glenn Ratajczak of the Clean Air Coalition said, “We have a vast array of projects, from beautifying the area, to monitoring the area, to helping with future health concerns.”

Tonawanda Coke could still face millions of dollars in fines, but Judge Skretny wrote that he is cognizant of the company’s ability or lack thereof to pay an exorbitant fine. It will be a factor at sentencing on Wednesday.

All parties involved have been waiting a long time for sentencing. It has been postponed twice during the last year.

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