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Amigone crematory plans to reopen Friday

The owner of a crematory at a Town of Tonawanda funeral home that nearby residents say fills their neighborhood with noise, soot and odor plans to resume operations on Friday, according to documents obtained by The Buffalo News.

The crematory at Amigone Funeral Home on Sheridan Drive has been dormant since 2012 under an agreement with the state Attorney General.

But Amigone’s attorney, former State Attorney General Dennis C. Vacco, notified the Attorney General and state Department of Environmental Conservation in a Jan. 14 letter that more than a dozen upgrades are planned to the crematory and cremations will resume Friday.

Amigone, under the name Sheridan Park Inc., has contracted with Matthews International to perform the modifications, according to the letter. The 13 upgrades include replacement of all insulation and refractory materials, the current air injection system and relocation of the secondary burner.

Vacco also provided state officials with a third-party opinion from industry expert Michael W. Nicodemus, who said he was a cremations operations vice president for a Virginia Beach, Va., funeral home for more than 35 years.

“Upon review of the proposal from Sheridan Park Inc., it is clear to me that the proposed upgrades are above and beyond industry standards,” Nicodemus wrote to Vacco. “Industry standards mirror state environmental standards; therefore the equipment should comply with any and all NYS DEC regulations. The crematory’s performance should be clean, efficient, and operate without any impact to the surrounding neighbors.”

Neighbors behind the funeral home at 2600 Sheridan Drive, however, are not convinced. Werkley Road resident Mary Ann Dickerson said quality of life has improved dramatically since the crematory ceased operations in 2012.

“I don’t want to see it,” she said of a possible reopening. “I don’t want to go through that again. We’ve had such a nice time. I mean, nothing to worry about, no smells, no anything. And I’m thinking, (Amigone) doesn’t care. ... He doesn’t care about us. All he cares about is his business.”

Erie County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick said the crematory has been a nuisance for neighbors since it opened in 1991, despite assurances from Amigone.

Anthony Amigone Sr., chairman of the board of the funeral home, did not immediately respond to a message left late Tuesday afternoon at the Tonawanda location. The crematory has never been found in violation of any air pollution or noise limits.

It’s unclear if the upgrades have already been made, although Dickerson said she had not seen any work activity at the crematory.

Vacco’s letter to the attorney general and DEC says only that the modifications “will be made as soon as practicable.”

But Maureen A. Brady, the DEC’s regional attorney, wrote in a Jan. 20 letter to Vacco that Vacco told her in a phone conversation that no engineering modifications would be made unless Amigone had assurances from the attorney general and DEC that they will not challenge the facility’s ongoing operation.

“In the event that Amigone elects to resume operations on Jan. 28, 2016 using the existing equipment, the department reserves its legal options, consistent with the Interim Assurance of Discontinuance and Judge Nowak’s decision,” Brady wrote, referring to the 2012 agreement.

State Supreme Court Justice Henry J. Nowak ruled in March 2014 that the 2012 agreement is still in effect after the state sought a permanent injunction to permanently block Amigone from reopening the crematory.

Under the agreement, there are three provisions for what Amigone must do if it wants to reopen the crematory:

• It has to give two weeks’ written notice to the attorney general.

• It has to retain a third-party consulting firm “to determine the validity of and develop recommendations for on-site operational changes that will address the residents’ concerns regarding odors, soot, smoke and further ensure compliance with the law.”

• At least seven days before reopening the crematory, it has to give the attorney general a report on those recommendations and its plan for implementing them.

Vacco said his letter fulfills all three requirements.

But a local environmental group that has organized neighbors against the crematory said the moratorium should continue.

“The intent of the 2012 Assurance of Discontinuance is very clear. We are confident that the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Attorney General’s Office will continue to protect this neighborhood. No one should be forced to smell burning bodies in their backyards,” said Rebecca Newberry, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition.