Residents have mixed feelings on Tonawanda Coke sentence

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) There were mixed feelings Wednesday after Tonawanda Coke was ordered to pay a $12.5 million fine, fund two environmental studies, and its environmental manager was ordered to spend a year and a day behind bars.

RELATED | For full details on the sentencing, click here

Residents have been fighting with the plant for 10 years and say they would have preferred larger fines for the company and more jail time for the plant’s environmental manager, Mark Kamholz. But despite that, many seemed happy and relieved while walking out of the federal courthouse on Wednesday.

Jackie James-Creedon can’t believe her fight has led to this.

“Back in 2005, we just wanted a clean environment for us to live. We wanted our air to be cleaner. We wanted to know why everyone was sick. We had no clue they were breaking the law,” James-Creedon said.

Tonawanda Coke will pay the $12.5 million fine to the justice department, but must fund two environmental studies as well, with costs not to exceed $12.2 million. One of those studies was submitted by James-Creedon.

She said, “[It will help to] better understand the impact of their black soot or particular matter that comes off their plant, and how it’s impacting our community.”

Tonawanda resident Joyce Hogenkamp lost her mother to sickness in 2006 and she now believes Tonawanda Coke contributed to it.

“Through the trial I could actually connect the dots to when benzene was in the air and when she needed blood transfusions,” Hogenkamp said.

And she feels a little bit of justice for her mother today.

“She taught me to fight. Don’t give up,” Hogenkamp said.

But the fines could have been much higher. Judge William Skretny signaled early on that he would not impose the maximum $295 million against Tonawanda Coke, nor order the company to pay victims any compensation, and that left others a little disappointed.

“It’s kind of mixed emotions. It’s a good step forward, but definitely not sufficient. We definitely would have liked to see a much higher fine and a much higher jail time, but I think it’s a good step forward,” said Erin Heaney of the Clean Air Coalition of WNY.

The other study Tonawanda Coke will have to pay for is a toxicology study being performed by the University at Buffalo.

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