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Judge rules Amigone can’t reopen crematory without getting state approval

Residents of a Tonawanda neighborhood adjacent to a shuttered crematory were breathing a little easier when they left State Supreme Court on Tuesday afternoon.

Justice E. Jeannette Ogden granted an injunction requested by the state that will prevent the Sheridan Park facility owned by Amigone Funeral Home from reopening – at least until the state Department of Environmental Conservation finds that the crematory is in compliance with air quality permit requirements.

This is the latest step in a court battle that began four years ago, when Amigone and the state approved a legal agreement that the crematory would stop operating for six months while the company explored ways to “address residents’ concerns regarding odors, soot, smoke and noise and further insure compliance with the law.”

Amigone conceded that people living in the neighborhood that backed up to the crematory at 2600 Sheridan Drive had complained since it opened in 1991 that they couldn’t enjoy their yards or even keep their windows open because of periodic smells, smoke and even particles from the facility’s exhaust drifting onto their property. Knowing that the source of the offensive material was human bodies made it even more unpalatable.

However, the company maintained that the facility never violated state air pollution or noise limits.

After the 2012 order, Amigone considered moving the facility, according to the company’s attorney, Dennis C. Vacco, but, he said, the state refused to approve any of the locations it proposed, leaving the business in limbo.

Unable to move, Amigone notified the DEC in January that it planned to resume operations at the crematory and outlined more than a dozen mechanical and engineering upgrades it would make to remediate pollution issues.

The notice reignited the neighbors’ protests and prompted an immediate review by the DEC, which determined that the use of the existing equipment “would inevitably result in violations of air quality regulations.”

The state Attorney General’s Office responded by filing for a preliminary injunction to prevent the crematory from reopening until it made necessary upgrades and “receives required state permits to operate the facility.”

On Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Jane Cameron asked the judge to grant the injunction to prevent the crematory from reopening until it is fully compliant with air quality standards and has received necessary permits.

“The state has an obligation to protect these residents’ air quality, and that obligation cannot be bargained away,” Cameron argued. “All we ask is that they do what everybody else does, and that’s comply with DEC permitting requirements.”

For Amigone’s part, Vacco argued that the state was trying to backpedal on its original 2012 agreement at the same time it wanted to expand its requirements. He said the facility is the only crematory in the state that was being required to meet air standards for industry.

He noted that several area crematories are in or near residential neighborhoods, including one in Elmlawn Memorial Park on Delaware Avenue, the Tonken crematory on Kenmore Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda, and Forest Lawn near Gates Circle, which were “grandfathered” in, as he says the Amigone crematory was.