TOWN OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — Voting opened Monday for residents in seven Western New York zip codes to help New York State determine how $1 million in grants will be distributed.
The funding comes through the Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefit Program, run by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the NYS Attorney General's Office. The program is distributing money obtained by the state through an agreement with the Tonawanda Coke Corporation following various environmental violations at the company's former facility in Tonawanda.
“Projects will get funded based on the community's input,” noted Cara Matteliano, senior director, policy & strategic partnerships, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.
The program is considering 25 project proposals for funding. The proposals are divided into two tiers. "Tier 1" projects are requesting grants of up to $25,000. "Tier 2" projects involve grants between $25,001 and $250,000. Voters can choose six projects from each tier that they'd like to see receive funding.
Any resident age 16 or older in the following zip codes can vote:
Those zip codes include the Town of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Kenmore, the southern part of Grand Island, and the Riverside neighborhood of Buffalo.
After years of contamination pouring out from Tonawanda Coke, there is now a chance to restore some of the environment in surrounding neighborhoods and this time residents will have a voice.
“We have community gardens. We have parks improvements. We have tree planting. We have environmental education. We have storm water management. We have recycling,” explained Matteliano.
Voting is open online and in-person from Monday, September 20 through Sunday, September 26.
“Balloting started this morning and we've already had people start to cast ballots," noted Matteliano.
Kenmore resident Nichole Bermingham will be casting her ballot.
“I like that like there's a wide range of different changes people would like to make and I think there's good choices for the community,” remarked Bermingham. “I think people have been waiting for something positive to come out of this."
Tonnawanda Coke caused harmful effects to the soil and that stretches into an area known as old town and Buffalo's Riverside section.
The Black Rock Riverside Alliance is proposing a more than $75,000 project that would restore green elements and educate residents about what's in their own back yards.
“So that they know whether their soil is safe to plant in and if they can eat what they plant in it,” responded Anne McCooey, Black Rock Riverside Alliance.
McCooey was out canvassing the neighborhood Monday with flyers to spread the word about the ballot to residents.
McCooey says the boys and girls club already has a tree farm and the project project would help enhance and provide more trees into the neighborhood.
“A lot of these streets are really void of trees and since we're on a bird migratory pathway — it's kind of important that we have those resources for the birds,” McCooey noted.
The Black Rock proposal would also provide pollination gardens for monarch butterflies.
“Being able to have a things that are planted very purposefully for pollinators would do a lot to improve the environment was well,” McCooey said.
The following locations will have information about each project and ballots available for voting within their normal hours of operation:
- Elaine M. Panty Branch Library, 820 Tonawanda St., Buffalo
- Kenmore Branch Library, 160 Delaware Rd., Kenmore
- Grand Island Memorial Library, 1715 Bedell Rd., Grand Island
- North Tonawanda Public Library, 505 Meadow Dr., North Tonawanda
- Nroth Park Branch Library, 975 Hertel Ave., Buffalo
- Brighton Place, 999 Brighton Rd., Tonawanda
Back in 2013, Toanwanda Coke was found guilty of 11 counts of violating the Clean Air Act and three counts of violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for releasing a known carcinogen into the air. The old Tonawanda Coke smoke stacks were demolished in June.