By Jessica Bagley
Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — After years of resident complaints concerning emissions from Amigone's crematory and a six-month suspension of the operations, it's still not clear what the long-term future will hold for the company. But short term, the controversy over the crematory will be heard in court.
Amigone signed a legally binding agreement with the attorney general's office in July, agreeing to halt operations amid backlash from area residents and the Clean Air Coalition. But in July, the contract expired.
Although representatives of Amigone owners, Sheridan Park Inc., have refused to comment, residents that live near Amigone and the Clean Air Coalition believe Amigone hasn't resumed operations of its crematory since the expiration of the legally binding agreement.
In July when the contract was signed, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said he reserved the right to file charges against Amigone if the company began using the crematory, which was launched in 1991 adjacent to Amigone's funeral home.
“I could open it up tomorrow but the the attorney general could bring a suit and we’d go to court,” Vincent Amigone, who was unreachable Friday, said in November. “We don’t want to go through that route.”
The agreement in July came after a study from the University of Buffalo indicated widespread pollution in the surrounding residential neighborhood, including human ash.
Residents of the area have been complaining of noxious smells and smoke for almost 20 years, and some living on Werkeley Avenue, the street right behind the crematory, said they have been suffering from severe illnesses as a result of the emissions.
At the time of the agreement, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said the Amigone would need to research ways to reduce its emissions, or find a way to move the operation.
During the six-month halt period, Amigone filed a request with the state cemetery board to move the crematory to a different location on Cooper Avenue.
Although that area of the town is closer to the industrial zone, the crematory would still be surrounded by homes, Sheridan Park and families. Residents who live nearby spoke out against the potential move.
“It’s not solving the problem, it’s moving the problem,” Bob Parker, of Two Mile Creek Road, which backs up to Cooper, said in October at a town board meeting.
But the cemetery board, in a decision issued Sept. 27, ruled that Amigone could not move its crematory, and over two months later, Amigone announced it was scrapping its moving plans.
In the decision, the board explains that combined funeral entities and crematories were prohibited in a decision in 1998, but that through a grandfathering exception, Amigone was allowed to continue operating its combined facility on Sheridan Drive.
"This provision only permits the funeral entity to continue to operate the same crematory it was operating before that date," the board states.
As a result, the board said that under the law, there is "no authority for moving a crematory operation to a new location."
"Any crematory operator — even a regular cemetery — that wishes to move its crematory would have to apply to operate a new crematory at the new location," the decision reads.
But Amigone is pushing along with its attempt to move the crematory and is challenging the decision in Erie County Supreme Court. Motion arguments for the set for the end of this month before Judge John A. Michalek. Robert Knoer, of The Knoer Group, is representing Amigone, but did not return repeated phone calls to comment on the case.
"Our members are encouraged that there still might be a chance they are moving," Rebecca Newberry, of the Clean Air Coalition said. "But we don't want the crematory to be relocated to a residential neighborhood."