Robert Parker thinks relocating a crematory to an industrially zoned area in the Town of Tonawanda is a bad idea.
His daughter’s swing set is about 200 feet from the small, unadorned building where Amigone Funeral Home hopes to restart cremations after being driven from a more residential area.
“Ask anyone if they want a crematory in their backyard, and they’ll say no,” Parker said. “Who can sit in their backyard and enjoy themselves when bodies are burning a couple of hundred feet from you?”
He’s not alone: Other residents living on Two Mile Creek Road, parallel to Cooper Avenue, where the crematory would be, say the facility would be too close to their homes and to Sheridan Park across the street, with its golf course and baseball diamonds used by local leagues and the Ken-Ton School District.
In July, Amigone Funeral Home agreed to close its 21-year-old crematory at 2600 Sheridan Drive at Parker Boulevard after pressure from residents concerned about their health and tired of the noise and smell. State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman also joined the fray, threatening legal action before Amigone and Sheridan Park, the name under which the nonprofit crematory operates, voluntarily agreed to a six-month moratorium in which the company proposed to explore alternatives.
Vincent Amigone, chief executive officer of Amigone Funeral Home, said the company will ask to relocate the crematory to 55 Cooper Ave., near the Thruway entrance from Grand Island Boulevard, at a 2 p.m. legislative hearing Nov. 7 in Old County Hall, 92 Franklin St. Lawmakers would have to designate the area as a cemetery district before New York State Division of Cemeteries could give its approval.
Amigone said the move was “not set in stone,” and suggested the company could even try to restart again at its previous location if it can’t find another site.
“We’re trying to do everything we possibly can to run our own machine, and handle our families directly without using another crematory,” Amigone said, pointing out it has been expensive and logistically difficult. “It’s a lot simpler for us to handle it ourselves.”
Amigone dismissed the notion that the smoke and ash could pose a health concern. Tests performed last year by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which regulates for smoke and “public nuisance” issues, and the University at Buffalo found crematory particulate in samples taken from the grinder exhaust fan, and from nearby residential properties. Amigone later corrected the grinder fan problem.
“It’s not a heath issue or there wouldn’t be crematories in the United States. They would all be shut down. The facts aren’t there. It’s a personal issue of neighbors,” Amigone said.
The funeral home’s crematory, he said, “is the cleanest and most up to date in Western New York.”
”We work [at the funeral home where the crematory was in operation] and have family there. I would not put any of our employees in harm’s way, or any of our neighbors,” Amigone added.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said crematory emissions are minimal and do not need to be regulated. But critics have said government data concerning the burning of toxic heavy metals, notably mercury from dental amalgams, underestimates the danger.
Rebecca Newberry, program coordinator with the Clean Air Coalition of WNY, said she was flooded with calls after area residents received a public hearing notice in their mailbox. The group has waged a successful campaign to reduce health-threatening emissions at Tonawanda Coke, and has helped mobilize opposition to the crematory.
“Amigone wants to swap one neighborhood location for another. On paper, you see an industrial plot of land and it looks great. But it’s right by a little girl’s swing set. Baseball teams play right there,” Newberry said.
A spokeswoman for Sheridan Healthcare Center, whose services include pulmonary health and rehabilitation, and is a block from Parker’s home, said the Catholic Health center has not staked out a position on the crematory.
Erie County Legislator Kevin R. Hardwick, who represents the areas where the previous crematory was and where the proposed crematory would go, is opposed.
He said he was enthusiastic about the Cooper Avenue site until he spoke with residents.
“The shame of this whole thing is I think Amigone is trying to do the right thing in moving it from a densely populated area to an industrial zone. It seemed like a win-win situation, but I think they have to keep looking and move it a little further away from people,” Hardwick said.
Some residents who opposed the crematory at the first location have lent their support to the homeowners on Two Mile Creek.
“The crematory was about 10 feet from my property line, and 30 to 40 feet from my house,” Ronald Labuda said. “It was horrible for the past 20 years. I couldn’t go out in my yard because it was so loud, and when you smelled the odor from human flesh, it was sickening.”
Kenneth Ochterski, who lives on Two Mile Creek, is concerned that prevailing southwest winds will blow smoke and ash from the crematory over his house and those of his neighbors.
“I just don’t see the logic of moving that smoke and ash and smell from one neighborhood to another,” he said.