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Another Voice: Superfund program is best option for Tonawanda Coke site

By Rebecca Newberry, George Harrigan and Gary Swain

The Tonawanda Coke site was sold this week. For decades, Tonawanda Coke was responsible for spewing carcinogens into our air, waste into our water, toxins into the soil, and for the deaths of employees.

This contamination did not start with Tonawanda Coke. Honeywell, formally Allied Chemical, sold the site in the 1970s. Honeywell remains responsible for the site today, unless New York State allows them to walk.

In the spring, Honeywell hired e3communications, who relentlessly lobbied elected officials to push for a state brownfield designation, which would allow a developer to voluntarily remediate an inactive site, and be rewarded with tax credits to lessen the cost.

Honeywell joined forces with developer Jon Williams. Residents of Buffalo’s Delavan Grider neighborhood are familiar with Williams, who owns the former American Axle site. The site has leaked PCBs into the City of Buffalo’s sewer system for years, until community pressure resulted in a remedial measure executed by the state earlier this year.

Williams has now purchased Tonawanda Coke and intends to apply for brownfields tax credits to remediate the site. If Williams is granted this designation, Honeywell avoids enforcement action and cost recovery, there is no mandate for workers to make prevailing wage, and Williams is rewarded with tax credits to cover costs.

Let’s be clear who’s getting rich here. Or should we say, staying rich?

Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk’s 2018 total compensation was $19,246,604. It would take the average worker in Erie County 8.5 lifetimes to earn what Adamczyk earns in one year.

We deserve better. And there is a simple solution: the federal Superfund program, which is a robust enforcement program designed to remediate large, extremely toxic sites.

Superfund gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to remediate and pay for the cleanup through recovered costs from the polluter, Honeywell.

Superfund, unlike Brownfield, guarantees that workers are paid a prevailing wage, and creates more jobs. Research shows that enforcement remediation programs create twice the jobs then thorough voluntary initiatives.

We need Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos to listen to the regular people that work, live and die here, not billionaires, and refer the Tonawanda Coke site to the federal Superfund program.

Rebecca Newberry is director of the Clean Air Coalition; George Harrigan is president of Teamsters Joint Council 46; Gary Swain is business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17.

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