New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York Governor Kathy Hochul today awarded $909,384 to 14 environmental benefit projects for the Tonawanda community, as part of a previous settlement reached by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) over environmental violations at the former Tonawanda Coke facility. For years, the Tonawanda Coke Corporation (TCC) released hazardous waste into the air and ground, jeopardizing the health of New Yorkers and violating state and federal laws. Today’s grants — administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo — range from $5,000 to $250,000, and will go directly towards community-improvement and environmental projects selected based on community preference determined by a community-wide balloting process.
“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,” said Attorney General James. “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.”
“With remediation efforts underway at the former Tonawanda Coke facility, we are making Western New York stronger by protecting its most valuable resources,” said Governor Hochul. “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.”
“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,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “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.”
As a result of the settlement led by the OAG and the DEC, the TCC was required to pay a civil penalty and allocate $1 million to a grant program — the Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefit Program (EBP) — that was 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 available to project applicants.
The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo 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. The OAG, the DEC, and the Community Foundation 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 proposal 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 community-wide balloting process.
The final projects selected by the state directly mirror the results of the balloting process, which can be found on the Community Foundation’s website. The grant awards also reflect the Community Foundation's recommendations.
Grants are divided into small-to-medium scale projects — which range from $5,000 to $25,000 — and large scale projects — which range from $25,001 up to $250,000.
Small-to-medium scale 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.
“We are grateful for the leadership of the Tonawanda Community EBP’s Advisory Panel for their enthusiasm and engagement throughout this entire process,” said Cara Matteliano, senior director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. “We are also grateful to Governor Hochul and Attorney General James and their offices 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 them 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.”
“I am extremely proud of the inclusive, transparent process that this panel considered during our time together,” said Jill O’Malley, village of Kenmore resident and Tonawanda Community EBP Community Advisory Panel member. “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 maximized 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.”
“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,” said Thomas Piwtorak, Tonawanda resident and Tonawanda Community EBP Advisory Panel member. “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, especially the DEC and OAG for their support. I look forward to the positive impacts these grants will have on the Tonawanda community for years to come.”
“For decades, Tonawanda Coke broke the law and polluted our air and soil, risking the health of Western New York residents,” said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. “I am proud that I fought side-by-side with the community for years to hold them accountable and prouder still to see this money going back to empower Tonawanda’s recovery and growth. These worthy projects to keep our environment clean and improve lives of Western New Yorkers will get the investment they deserve.”
“I’m so pleased to announce that this substantial settlement funding will go toward reinvigorating the Tonawanda community,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “As we continue making progress combating the environmental ramifications of the Tonawanda Coke site, I am confident these new projects will deliver significant benefits to surrounding communities. There is no issue more pressing than the health of our environment, and I will always advocate to hold polluters accountable.”
“Tonawanda Coke was a serial polluter whose reckless actions impacted the health of nearby residents and neighborhoods,” said U.S. Representative Brian Higgins. “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.”
“The Tonawanda Coke plant spent years illegally polluting the surrounding community and while the ongoing rehabilitation of the site is important, that alone is not enough to address the damage that has been done,” said State Senator Sean Ryan. “I thank Governor Hochul and Attorney General James for delivering these funds, which are rightfully being invested back into the region affected by the plant’s pollution. These grants will enable the people of Tonawanda to take a hands-on approach and address environmental issues in their own neighborhoods. The funds will launch a wide range of creative projects, and each will do its part to promote environmental wellness and strengthen the Tonawanda community. It was heartening to see so many proposals submitted and so many residents engaged in the voting process. I look forward to seeing these projects in action.”
“For years, western New Yorkers suffered from pollution emitted by Tonawanda Coke,” said State Senator Tim Kennedy. "With these grants, New York state is helping to provide a cleaner, healthier environment for current and future generations. Thank you to Governor Hochul, Attorney General James, and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo for their combined leadership in seeing this important project to fruition.”
“The Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefit Program represents a triumphant turning point in the painful story of Tonawanda Coke and the pollution it inflicted on citizens,” said State Assemblymember Bill Conrad. “From the demolition of the plant's stacks in June to the awarding of these grants, we are seeing the power of the people in action. This funding, and the process by which it is being distributed, belong to the everyday heroes of this saga: the activists, scientists, local leaders, and families, who for years, demanded corporate accountability and a healthier environment for all of us. Their hard-won victory will now be honored, and their impact immortalized, by these worthwhile projects. I applaud the DEC, Attorney General James, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and the dedicated community advisors who made the Tonawanda Community EBP such a success.”
“I applaud Governor Hochul and Attorney General James for facilitating nearly $1 million in settlement funds to projects that will greatly improve the health and environmental safety of western New Yorkers,” said State Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera. “The environmental violations committed by Tonawanda Coke were egregious, and further adds to the argument that the largest corporate contributors to climate change should shoulder the burden of its cost. The funds secured by the governor and attorney general as a result of this settlement will enhance efforts locally to clean our air and waterways, and help create a greener state for all New Yorkers.”
“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,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “Erie County is looking forward to working on these projects while, at the same time, working with our partners in town and state government to ensure the site is cleaned up.”
“The funding that will be provided to the town and to non-profits 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,” said Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Joseph Emminger. “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’s residents.”
The former Tonawanda Coke site is being remediated under the New York state Superfund and Brownfield Cleanup programs, with rigorous DEC oversight to ensure the cleanup protects public health and the environment. For more information, visit the DEC website.
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.
For more information about the Tonawanda Community EBP — including the process, applicants’ proposals, and the results of the community preferencing — please visit the Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefits Program website.
This matter was handled by Policy Advisor Peter C. Washburn of the Environmental Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux. The Division for Social Justice is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.