TOWN OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. - Just three pictures...
That's how many images, captured inside the gates of Tonawanda Coke, that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sent to 2 On Your Side when we asked to see what's going on at the facility.
We asked to see the pictures, when DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told reporters he had toured the facility on Wednesday, "I wanted to see the site myself. I wanted to see, you know, what the legacy of the mismanagement actually looks like, first hand."
This is Seggos' first time checking out the plant since stepping into his commissioner role in 2015.
The pictures sent to 2 On Your Side by an agency spokesperson definitely show Seggos on site, but there are no images to support any of the efforts the DEC claims are happening at the site; such as winterization, soil and water sampling, and remediation efforts.
We asked DEC spokesperson, Erica Ringewald, if there were any other pictures from the commissioner's tour, or if engineers from the Environmental Protection Agency could send us additional images. The EPA is the lead agency in the cleanup effort at Tonawanda Coke. Ringewald responded that she would send any additional photos she comes across. No additional photos were sent Friday night.
"I can say," Seggos told reporters during a press event Thursday, "that the most immediate dangers from that site have likely been abated. I felt reasonably assured when we left the property yesterday that significant air concerns, that we had earlier in the year, have largely been abated. There didn't appear to be a significant amount of runoff on the site, if any."
On November 6, 2018, two weeks after the plant shutdown, we asked the state if we could bring cameras on Tonawanda Coke property to show the public what's going on there. The response was no.
After the Commissioner Seggos' tour, the answer was still no. An e-mailed statement from the DEC reads in part, "At this time, due to legal restrictions, only authorized personnel designated for facility closure operations are permitted on the premises."
"The site itself presents significant hazards, so it's a dangerous place to walk around," said Seggos of conditions he observed on his tour. "It's a heavily impacted industrial plant that was, for many years, woefully neglected. I mean, I was quite upset yesterday seeing the way that the facility was managed and what the workers must have been dealing with on a daily basis."
Seggos tells us the plant is still in the process of being fully decommissioned, and that it's still uncertain what the full clean up plan will look like.
This is what he had to say about pollution in the surrounding communities: "In terms of offsite contamination, I don't see a lot of it right now. But look, we're in the early stages. We are literally not going anywhere. We have staff there on a daily basis to understand the full extent of contamination and we'll be insuring that the public's protected along the way."
The state is also looking through company records to see if any other parties, working with Tonawanda Coke, may have contributed to the problems at the site through actions such as improper storage and dumping.
"Whenever I approach a site like this," explains Commissioner Seggos, "I'm always looking at the potential contributors, right? We have to. It's a $100 million a year Superfund law, but we have many Superfund sites around the state that would certainly eat that up on a yearly basis The law requires us to go back to the polluter. So, we'll find the polluters."
Besides remediation, Seggos tells 2 On Your Side, crews at the site are also in the process of trying to recover coke and other products that may have value. A full inventory of the property will also be happening for bankruptcy proceedings.
The state is now fencing off the property and hired security to prevent theft and vandalism. We're still waiting to hear back from the state about who will be responsible for those costs.