Community Advisory Boards to help guide cleanup of American Axle, Tonawanda Coke

Jul 27, 2020

The table is getting larger on two significant environmental cleanups locally, with community advisory boards being set up.

Usually, major environmental cleanups are public meetings, while government agencies and perhaps a developer or a former owner look at the work and the costs. Locally, there is a long history of that, sometimes for massive cleanups.

Tonawanda Coke and the former American Axle plant on East Delavan Avenue are major cleanups, unusually involving the same developer, Jon Williams. Now, the Erie County Legislature has agreed to Community Advisory Boards for both sites.

County Legislator Howard Johnson said the public will believe more if involved.

"These community advisory groups that this resolution puts forth is a good way to start," Howard said. "It will build trust in that process. I hope that New York State administrators will see consider our resolution and the message proposed by our colleagues in the Tonawandas."

Tonawanda Coke (l) and American Axle are owned by the same person, Jon Williams.
Credit File Photo / WBFO News

Clean Air Coalition Executive Director Rebecca Newberry said it is an important change in the process.

"The county really showed that community members and residents who have been impacted and who live next to and adjacent to these sites deserve a seat at the table," Newberry said, "and we're really excited to collaborate with the developer and collaborate with the experts and bring out own expertise to this process."

East Side activist Sydney Brown said the neighborhood should be involved.

"Far too long, these sites have been negligent as far as making sure they do have proper cleanup or just functioning in a healthy and safe way, not only for employees but for the community," Brown said, "and a Community Advisory group will help to keep things transparent, will help keep the community informed and the community has a say to make sure it's that done in a thorough and equitable way."

The American Axle plant was formerly a General Motors plant, going back to the days when Chevrolets were built there. It has an array of environmental problems, including a location above major East Side sewer lines made of brick, rather than giant pipes. That requires care in environmental cleanups to make sure the sewers keep working during the cleanup.