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Long Story Short: Grinning and bearing it


Illustration by J.P. Thimot


Things go better without coke

One hundred and one years ago, the first coke ovens were put into service at what is now known as Tonawanda Coke. The whole facility was nearly destroyed by a fire in 1977.


What is the coke formula?

The Coke formula is the Coca-Cola Company's secret recipe for Coca-Cola syrup, which bottlers combine with carbonated water to create the company's flagship cola soft drink. But that’s totally irrelevant here, because this is not the kind of coke we’re taking about. This coke is a fuel with high carbon content and few impurities, made by heating coal in the absence of air. The byproduct is choking black smoke. 


What happened at Tonawanda Coke?

A week ago today, the State Department of Environmental Conservation charged Tonawanda Coke with violating state air quality permits almost 120 times between May 18 and July 6, and issued a cease and desist order for certain specific operations at the plant.  All told, the plant was charged with 176 environmental violations, and their air permits are revoked as of August 4, which essentially shuts down the plant—unless they seriously clean up their act.


Residents of Tonawanda, Grand Island, and other neighboring communities are joyous that their complaints, persistent over many years, and intensifying lately, have finally been heard. Residents downwind from Tonawanda Coke are tired of benzene-laced smoke assaulting their lungs. But apparently, “cease and desist” doesn’t mean stop right away; Tonawanda Coke is still operating. Lawyers for Tonawanda Coke have several avenues for delaying the order.


The takeaway: 

Tonawanda Coke has not done what’s necessary to come into compliance with air pollution standards. While some people are concerned that shuttering the plant will cost hundreds of good paying union jobs, you can’t endanger the lives of area residents for the sake of jobs. If the plant closes, the management of Tonawanda Coke will be responsible for the lost jobs, not the people who fought for the right to breath freely.



They can save the bird, but not the bear?

Judging from the letters to the editor in the Buffalo News, there are still plenty of people upset over the shooting of a black bear that made the fatal mistake of wandering into Amherst. Officials had hoped the bear would wander back to where it belonged (i.e., not where humans live). The bear was injured by a car, but managed to limp into a densely populated community. Then it was shot. 



The Erie County SPCA rescued a bird. The raven had been trapped in the rafters at Bethlehem Steel for two months, and was coated in what looked like motor oil. The starving and emaciated bird was admitted to the SPCA wildlife hospital in West Seneca, where the staff cleaned it with mineral oil, and scraped gunk off its wings with their fingernails. Then they bathed it in Dawn dish soap, because Dawn apparently really does cut through tough grease, just as the old ads claimed. Now they are feeding the bird to help it regain its strength.


Barbara Haney, the SPCA’s director of wildlife, is quoted in the Buffalo News as saying, “You try not to form emotional bonds. But, when you see this bird covered in oil, it’s hard not to.” Didn’t a bear lumbering around with an injured leg have an emotional impact? Isn’t it considered wildlife?


After feeding the bird, the SPCA plans to do bloodwork, and then take an X-ray, followed by a weigh-in to gauge the patient’s progress. It intends to rehabilitate the raven for a month, and then find a suitable place to release it. Ravens are neither a threatened nor endangered species, but, apparently, they are scarce in Western New York.


The takeaway:

Okay, we get it; injured bears are bigger and harder to manage than infirm birds. But where was the SPCA when the black bear needed it? Couldn’t there be a plan in place in Erie County for occasions like this when bears, coyotes, turkeys, and other larger animals wander into human habitats? A plan that doesn’t end in death for the animals?


Meanwhile the animals are planning an uprising. Quoth the raven, nevermore.



Changing streams

Remember when only Superman could change the course of mighty rivers? Well, a group of Woodlawn residents say New York State has changed the course of Blasdell creek, and they’re not happy about it. That’s because when the creek moved, it cut them off from the shore of Woodlawn Beach State Park, for which they have an easement granting access.


The residents think the state caused the change by dumping debris from the beach at a site next to the creek as part of a plan to improve water quality for swimming. The question is, did the state cause the change, and in the process interfere with the property-owners’ easement, or did nature change its mind and move the creek on its own? It looks like the town of Hamburg will be seeking experts to determine what caused the shift. If it was the state, steps may be taken to return the creek to its former course.


One thing is certain; over the past twenty years, while the creek was changing direction, scores of trees filled parkland behind the beach. Putting the creek movement (and the bad smell locals say came with it) aside, the park is more beautiful than it once was.



This happened?

Police say a 94-year old resident of Mary Agnes Manor assisted living facility resisted attempts to take him to ECMC for a psych evaluation Wednesday morning. That, of course, is not unusual. Mary Agnes Manor, located at 307 Porter Avenue, specializes in care for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and bouts of anger and hostility are symptoms of this tragic affliction. But it was the way John Tenant resisted that sets him apart from the average irritated patient.


The details:

Paramedics and other staff were trying to persuade Tenant to enter the elevator, when he announced that he was armed and was going to shoot them. Sure you are, the staff thought to themselves. Where would a ninety-four-year old dementia patient get a gun? Tenant then whipped out a loaded .38 caliber revolver from a pocket on his walker and squeezed-off a shot at a nearby maintenance worker. Fortunately, the bullet missed its target and lodged in a wall. A gunshot in a confined space is much louder than most people realize, but the staff remained cool under fire. A quick acting paramedic disarmed Tenant—who was then taken to ECMC.


The nonagenarian gunman was charged with attempted murder and remanded without bail to the Erie County Holding Center. He faces a maximum of twenty-five years in prison if convicted as charged, though it’s unlikely he would serve the whole sentence.


The big questions

Who is arming the Alzheimer patients? Does Mary Agnes Manor allow handguns in the facility? Was the gun legal? Is this the most surprising thing anyone ever pulled out of a walker pocket?



A tax by any other name

It’s likely that concerts, games, and other special events in Buffalo will soon cost a little more for non-city residents, thanks to a new proposed surcharge (i.e. tax). The proposal from the Brown administration has the support of the Common Council. According to the plan, events at the following locations will have an added fee, from fifty cents to $3.50.


Here’s the list:
Key Bank Center
Coca-Cola Field
Kleinhans Music Hall
Shea’s Preforming Arts Center


Charity events would be exempted


City officials say it’s to cover the cost of public safety at events. Here’s what Mayor Brown had to say when he introduced the proposal: “This surcharge recognizes these venues are regional assets that draw people from Western New York and beyond. This fee is expected to alleviate the disproportionate burden on city taxpayers and spread the cost in a more equitable manner.” Buffalo residents would be eligible for refunds with proof of residency, which sounds like an added hassle to purchasing tickets.


Brown claims the burden for security and maintenance costs falls unfairly on city residents. Maybe, but let’s look at it another way; sports and arts events pump millions of dollars into Buffalo’s economy. People entering the city from other areas pay for tickets, gas, hotels, parking, souvenirs, food and drink, and a host of other goods and services. They already pay sales tax, and maybe a bed, bridge, and highway tax. Cities usually want to attract audiences from other regions, because it’s GOOD for the economy, not a burden. But this surcharge penalizes outsiders for spending their money in Buffalo.



Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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