Tonawanda Coke attorney Garry Graber says about 70 of the company's 129 workers have been laid off at the plant so far.
Friday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Michael Kaplan signed off on the company making final payments to those employees.
"They are gonna be paid, today, everything they're owed including severance, vacation and all other wage-related items," Graber said.
Graber says the payments totaled about $150,000.
Before Kaplan approved the payments, representatives from the EPA and Office of the United States Trustee asked for clarification on some of the payments.
"The government wanted to make sure no officers or directors were being paid," Graber said.
They expressed their satisfaction after they spoke with Tonawanda Coke attorneys during a half-hour recess from the court proceedings.
Graber says employees still working at the facility will continue to be paid, and will receive benefit payments once they leave.
He adds that he is not sure exactly how long the remaining workers will be needed.
"EPA and DEC are in there now, and they may want certain things to continue like the boiler and some other mechanical elements of the plant, but it will ultimately very shortly get to the point where they are really in sole possession of the property, and they will do what they feel they need to do, given the condition of the property," Graber said.
An attorney for the EPA says some workers may be transferred to the EPA's payroll as they continue work on the site.
The remaining employees are with the United Steelworkers Union.
Staff Representative Joseph Vertalino says today was the first he heard of workers possibly staying on, but he likes the idea.
"If it keeps the guys working and employed, we'd be for it," Vertalino said.
Vertalino also says after Thursday's job fair put on by the NYS Department of Labor, most, if not all of the laid off Steelworkers will be placed into other jobs.
The shutdown process began not long after Oct. 12 when the company informed the Department of Environmental Conservation of its financial inability to legally operate the plant. This followed settlement talks between Tonawanda Coke and the DEC.
A subsequent statement by the company bemoaned the fact that workers found out about the shutdown through media reports:
"This outcome is truly unfortunate. Confidentiality was necessary to ensure the safety of Tonawanda Coke's workers and the community, as shutting down a coke battery can be a complex and dangerous activity which can only be safely accomplished through careful, detailed planning, and utilization of experienced personnel. It was essential that we communicate with our workers to ensure they understood the situation and would continue to operate the battery safely."
The last of the company’s 30 coke ovens have been shut down, according to the DEC, and the next step is purging the gas lines and cooling the battery ovens. Officials say as the shutdown continues, flames will be visible from the River Road site, but that's a normal part of the process.
The company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and, as part of its filing, the company was required to show a list of 20 companies it owes the most money to. Its largest debt is the week-overdue community service payment of $2 million to the federal government. There are another two payments, each around $300,000, due to Southern Minerals Inc., and Rhino Energy LLC.
A previous filing mentioned a $1 million debt to DiVal Safety Equipment in Buffalo, but a second filing clarified that Tonawanda Coke only owes the company $19,000.
Two others were between $200,000 and $300,000, with many others were between $20,000 and $40,000.
According to the bankruptcy filing, after any administrative expenses are paid, no funds will be available to pay its debts. As a result, the company may not be able to make its final $2 million community service payment from its 2013 criminal conviction.
In a court filing Monday, attorneys for the company said they tried to secure the funds ahead of last week's deadline, but were unsuccessful.
The U.S. Attorney's Office previously filed for Tonawanda Coke to disclose its financial information, so the government could determine a way to collect the payment.
On Tuesday, District Court Judge William Skretny gave Tonawanda Coke an extension to release the financial data, citing the company's bankruptcy filing and continuing shutdown of the plant. Those documents are now due October 24th.
He did not, however, grant an extension on the community service payment, now a week overdue.
The DEC added it will work to ensure that workers and the neighboring community near Tonawanda Coke are protected during the shutdown process, and it will ensure the site is "fully secured" once the plant closes.