In a May 19, 2019 blog post, I wrote about the environmental contamination at the old Tonawanda Coke Facility in Western New York. Earlier this month, the Buffalo News reported that a developer purchased the former Tonawanda Coke site, intends to redevelop the property as a computer data center, and is seeking a state Brownfields designation as part of his remediation plans.
However, a local community group with a history of monitoring the facility, has come out in opposition to a State brownfield designation, and is instead advocating for a Federal Superfund remediation. The community group, which has earned the support of Rep. Brian M. Higgins, claims that a state brownfield cleanup would allow a company that is responsible for some of the contaminants at the site, and that has a large mortgage on the property, to obtain financial relief through state tax credits.
A lawyer for Tonawanda Coke said that the purchase agreement calls for the developer to pay the overdue property taxes for the site and assume liability for the cleanup, but does not otherwise involve any exchange of cash.
The Buffalo News reported that, after being convicted in federal court of criminal wrongdoing associated with the former Tonawanda Coke Facility, the company that formerly owned the site shut down last year, is engaged in bankruptcy proceedings, and is in the process of liquidating its asserts.
Stories of environmentally contaminated properties — like this one — are all too common. Unfortunately, many of these problems could have been avoided by fully complying with environmental laws and regulations. The cost of responding, investigating, and cleaning up contamination can be significant, especially when combined with fines, civil litigation, and, in some cases, the potential for criminal prosecution.
Although environmental laws and regulations can be complex and technical, the fate of the Tonawanda Coke facility demonstrates why ensuring strict compliance with environmental rules is so important. Whether you’re a Fortune 500 company, a statewide operation, or a small business, it’s generally better to incur compliance costs up-front than to take shortcuts that risk large fines, legal liability, and criminal prosecution. That’s why we always encourage companies to work with professionals to help them understand the legal constraints (such as on discharges), whether you are required to register or report to administrative agencies, or how to obtain and renew any required permits. Furthermore, if a company learns of a discharge or becomes the subject of a government investigation regarding a potential environmental issue, it should immediately seek advice from experienced legal counsel.
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