Weekly Feature

2018-10-10 / Front Page

Tonawanda Coke plant closing due to financial straits

DEC to oversee shutdown and assist workers

Unable to meet the financial obligations of operating its Tonawanda plant in accordance with the law, the Tonawanda Coke Corporation is pursuing a shutdown, according the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In a statement released Friday evening, the DEC said it was informed by the corporation of the intent to close the plant following the adjournment of an adjudicatory hearing that began on Oct. 10. That hearing was requested by the corporation after it received a letter from DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in July, which notified the corporation of a DEC cease-and-desist order that demanded the company immediately halt ongoing violations of environmental conservation law and associated regulations. Those violations reportedly total 176 since January.
In his letter, Seggos also notified Tonawanda Coke that the DEC was moving to revoke the Title V and Air State Facility permits associated with the corporation’s Tonawanda facility.
In addition to closing the plant, Tonawanda Coke intends to surrender its air permits, as part of the settlement of the DEC hearing.
“For too long, Tonawanda Coke has been a mismanaged blight on this community, and its owners will be held accountable for any damage to this community and the environment," said Seggos, in a prepared statement. "We are directing the company to open their doors and take all appropriate steps to protect this community during their shutdown. DEC experts will be a constant, on-site presence to ensure public safety, and we demand [Tonawanda Coke] provide all information necessary to fully secure the site.”
While no closure date has been provided by company, the DEC said it will dispatch staff to oversee a safe shutdown of the plant, and will make sure the plant's remaining workforce and the surrounding community are protected. The department said it will also coordinate with state and local emergency responders if any incidents occur, and will make sure the plant is fully secured to prevent any access once it is shuttered.
After the shutdown is complete, state and federal agencies will work to stabilize the site and ensure the proper closure of tanks and disposal of any hazardous materials.  A comprehensive investigation of the site will also be immediately launched to identify any contamination, and to develop a cleanup plan through a transparent public process that will put an empasis on community input.
Along with the DEC, The state Department of Labor is dispatching a rapid response team to assist impacted workers with intensive job placement services, and provide information on how to access benefits including unemployment insurance and health care options through the state's Health Plan Marketplace.
“While not unexpected, the Department of Labor stands ready to help the workers who have lost their livelihood because of this negligent company’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of the community," said DOL Commissioner Roberta Reardon. "Starting with the change of shift Monday morning, our team will be on the ground meeting with displaced workers. We’ll be here for as long as we’re needed -- to help these men and women access the benefits they need and most importantly, find them new jobs.”
The DOL will be scheduling rapid response sessions for impacted workers next week. The department will also be working closely with the United Steel Workers to assist the workers they represent. Non-represented workers will be contacted through the local mail. The DOL will also be providing services at the Buffalo Career Center, 284 Main St., Buffalo, and the Niagara Falls Career Center in the Trott ACCESS Building, 1001 11th St., Niagara Falls. To reach the Buffalo Career Center, call 851-2600. To reach the Niagara Falls Career Center, call 278-8258.

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