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Resident fed up living near crematory; Wants Legislature to rescind OK given Amigone for Town of Tonawanda facility

Tired of residing just feet from a crematory, Ronald J. Labuda figures he might finally be on to something. And it doesn't involve moving.

He asked an Erie County Legislature committee Thursday to consider rescinding the Legislature's permission, granted 21 years ago, to allow the crematory at Sheridan Drive and Parker Boulevard in the Town of Tonawanda.

The committee's chairman, Democrat Thomas J. Mazur of Cheektowaga, asked a staff person and an assistant county attorney to start examining the request.

"We need to see if any of this can be undone," Mazur said.

Labuda lives in a house that has been in his family since 1950. It's at 63 Werkley Road, near the Amigone Funeral Home addition that started operating as a crematory in 1991.

To Labuda and some other neighbors, it is a nuisance, spewing particulates that pose a health risk. But the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the state Division of Cemeteries have found the crematory largely complying with their regulations.

Vincent J. Amigone, chief executive officer for the family-owned chain of funeral homes, was not immediately available to comment Thursday. But the company has tried to address neighbors' complaints over the years.

A few years after the crematory opened, for example, the funeral home raised the height of the smokestack to 15 feet above the roof's surface. Later, some odors were linked to a highly chlorinated plastic used in a particular casket bed. So the Amigones asked the casket manufacturer to change the bed to eliminate the problem.

In 2009, after the crematory installed a new incinerator with a manufacturer-recommended 11-foot smokestack, the funeral home raised it to 17 feet to address complaints about the continuing smoke and odors.

"Don't we have a right to use our backyards without smelling a body burning?" Labuda asked at the time.

Thursday, he showed county lawmakers pictures of the smokestack emitting dense black smoke one day in August 2010. He said bodies contain dental fillings and plastic implants that become airborne when burned. Caskets and other wrappings can contain glues and synthetic materials that waft over the area.

Labuda's sister Rose Sickler, who now lives in West Seneca, accompanied him.

"For close to 20 years we have been doing a dance to find out who allowed this, and who allowed it so close to a property line in a residential area," she said.

Years ago, they wrote to then-County Executive Dennis T. Gorski. He responded by saying the best course of action would be to encourage the funeral home to be a good neighbor and urge it to raise the smokestack -- the issue at the time -- not to try to evict the crematory because it would lead to years of litigation.

But now, that's just what Labuda hopes the Legislature will do.

The resolution approved a generation ago, on Oct. 18, 1990, noted that lawmakers conducted a public hearing in which "any and all persons interested in being heard on this matter were afforded the opportunity to do so."

Labuda says he never learned of the public hearing in advance.

The measure then said the application for a crematory "does not adversely affect the public health and welfare," so the Legislature granted the request.

"How could they say that without an environmental impact study?" Labuda said.

The resolution itself does not establish conditions that Amigone must continuously meet or face having its permission rescinded. But Labuda says another document requires that emissions be "odorless and colorless," words he theorizes would provide leverage today.

The Legislature's resolution was sponsored in 1990 by the county lawmaker representing the area at the time, Democrat Leonard Lenihan, who now leads the county Democratic Committee.

The neighborhood was later represented by Democrat Lynn M. Marinelli, who tried to help the residents. Now, Democrat Thomas A. Loughran of Amherst is their county lawmaker.

"It seems unbelievable that you would put a crematory in a residential area," said Loughran, who invited Labuda to speak to the Energy and Environment Committee on Thursday. "It just doesn't make sense."

When the dispute with neighbors reached a high pitch in 1995, then-company President Anthony Amigone Sr. said it seemed that nothing short of relocating the crematory would satisfy the critics.

"I understand their feelings," he said then. "But embalming and cremation are a part of life. I can't help it. It's part of our business."

e-mail: mspina@buffnews.com

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