Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefits Program

The Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo is pleased to announce the results of the Tonawanda Community Environmental Benefits Program (Tonawanda Community EBP). This  $1 million grant program was established through funding obtained as part of a consent decree between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York Office of the Attorney General (collectively referred to as “the State”) and the Tonawanda Coke Corporation (TCC) regarding various environmental violations at TCC’s former facility in Tonawanda, New York.  The program was administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo (The Community Foundation).

The primary goal of the Tonawanda Community EBP was to fund environmental projects that will improve the environment or public health in the Tonawanda community, geographically defined as: Town of Tonawanda, City of Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Village of Kenmore, the southern part of the Town of Grand Island, as well as Buffalo’s Riverside neighborhood.


The Advisory Panel

To ensure that this process was undertaken in collaboration with the Tonawanda community, a committee of engaged residents served on an Advisory Panel. The panel represented the geographic makeup of the affected communities and the civic fabric of the Tonawanda area. The Advisory Panel worked with the State and the Community Foundation to develop and implement the program.

The collaboration between the State, the Community Foundation, and the Advisory Panel was critical to the success of the program, as they worked together to:

  • Develop the Request for Proposals (RFP)
  • Promote the program and RFP to potential applicants
  • Develop the community “preferencing” process through which Tonawanda community residents cast ballots for their preferred projects
  • Promote the “preferencing” and encourage community residents to participate
  • Advisory Panel members include:
    •  David Hahn Baker
    • Jim Jones
    • Patrick Mang
    • Thomas McGuire
    • Zachary Niemiec
    • Jessica Nowak
    • Jill O’Malley
    • Joanna Panasiewicz
    • Thomas Piwtorak
    • Reverend Ruth Snyder
    • Evelyn Vossler
    • Dan Wiles

The Process

RFP: While drafting the RFP, the Advisory Panel wanted to ensure that both large and small organizations had the ability to apply for and receive funding. They expressed special concern that small organizations have access to grant support and stated a desire to set aside up to $250,000 for projects proposed by small organizations. As a result, the Advisory Panel developed two tiers to which organizations could apply: Tier 1 with a grant range of $5,000 – $25,000 and Tier 2 with a grant range of $25,001 – $250,000.

Program Promotion: A number of action items were executed to promote the grant program including a press release that was sent to local media, e-blasts to a grantee list, and a digital kit (including flyers and social media posts) that was created for Advisory Panel members and community members.

Preferencing Process:  The preferencing process was designed by the State, the Community Foundation, and the Advisory Panel to ensure that all residents who were eligible to cast a ballot had the ability and opportunity to do so. To be eligible, participants had to reside in an affected community and be 16 years of age or older on the date the ballot was cast. Participants were required to cast a ballot for at least one project in each tier and allowed to cast ballots for up to 5 projects in each tier.

To ensure equitable access to the process, the State, the Community Foundation, and the Advisory Panel decided to offer balloting both in-person and online. Recognizing that libraries were welcoming and inclusive locations, in-person balloting was held at libraries located in the seven zip codes. A map of these locations showed that each location was no more than 5 miles from any eligible participant. Each of these libraries posted displays with paper ballots, ballot boxes and booklets with clear descriptions of the 25 projects. Library staff was available to assist people in casting an in-person ballot.

In addition, a website was created where residents could review the 25 project descriptions and cast a ballot online for their preferred projects.

Balloting Promotion: The Advisory Panel took a very active role as ambassadors of the program and conducted extensive outreach, using digital kit resources to post on neighborhood social media, hanging posters, putting up lawn signs, and circulating flyers in popular community locations. The Community Foundation placed advertisements in local newspapers serving the affected communities and placed lawn signs outside in-person balloting locations. They also conducted television and radio interviews broadcast to the affected communities.

Community Preferencing Results

The Tonawanda Community EBP grant award decisions were based on the results of the community balloting process developed and implemented collaboratively by the State, the Community Foundation, and the Advisory Panel.  Community-wide balloting took place between Sept. 19-26, during which a total of 2,881 ballots were cast by eligible participants.

Under the terms of the consent decree, New York State has the fiduciary responsibility to make the final grant awards to the project applicants.  Accordingly, final funding decisions were made by the State and mirror the project ranking from the community balloting process.  Within the funding capacity of the program, projects with the highest number of ballots were selected for funding. Click here for the results.

The Grantees

Here is a list of the Tier 1 projects that have been awarded a grant. To read the project descriptions, click here.

  • Citizen Coalition for Wildlife and Environment, Plant for Nature! Ecological Gardening for Community Health and Native Plant Giveaway, $11,900
  • Citizen Science Community Resources, Community Victory Garden, $24,908
  • City of Tonawanda Public Library, City of Tonawanda Public Library Community Reading Garden, $20,000 
  • Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, Senior Focused E-Waste Collection, $25,000
  • Erie County Department of Environment and Planning, Subsidized Community Rain Barrel/Compost Bin Sale, $25,000 
  • Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Union Free School District, Tree Planting and Beautification at Edison Elementary School, $6,359
  • Kenmore Village Improvement Society, Treasure Our Trees and Save the Bees, $10,000
  • Project Pride of North Tonawanda, Manhattan Street Rain Garden Improvements, $12,440
  • Thomas Edison PTA, Thomas Edison Parent-Teacher Association Community Garden, $25,000
  • Town of Tonawanda Public Library, “Rain Garden and Welcoming Outdoor Public Space at Kenilworth Library, $9,000

Here is a list of the Tier 2 projects have been awarded a grant. To read the project descriptions, click here.

  • Clean Air Coalition, Organizing Our Environmental Justice Values in Action, $99,000
  • Niagara River Greenway Commission, Building Stewardship and Strengthening Pride of the Greater Tonawanda Community, $230,000.
  • Town of Tonawanda, Kenney Field Park Multi-Use Trail, Inclusive Playground and Mural Wall, $250,000
  • Western New York Land Conservancy, Creating New Nature Preserves, Improving Public Access, Restoring Wildlife Habitat, and Offering Environmental Education, $160,777