Factory loss raising fears

It’s been nine months since politicians gathered to announce millions of dollars in assistance for t
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Categories: Schenectady County

It’s been nine months since politicians gathered to announce millions of dollars in assistance for the Hero Corp. to build a new Beech-Nut baby food factory in Montgomery County’s business park in the town of Florida.

But since then, officials in the village say they’ve been kept in the dark on exactly what, if any, efforts are being put forth to mitigate losses they expect will result from the manufacturer’s departure.

Village officials earlier this month contacted state officials, including Kenneth M. Tompkins, a regional director at Empire State Development Corp., to spell out a variety of issues the village expects to face when the 25-acre site housing Beech-Nut operations is abandoned.

One of the more pressing issues expected to hit Canajoharie property owners in the wallet is $3.6 million in debt for water and wastewater facility improvements that were made for the primary benefit of Beech-Nut.

The village wasn’t able to obtain grants or subsidized loan assistance from the state for those upgrades because the government said Beech-Nut would be responsible for most of the repayment, according to the village’s letter.

Village Trustee Garth MacFarland said Thursday officials are ready and willing to help coordinate efforts to deal with the upcoming issues, but there’s been no line of communication to do so.

“We hear things all the time that come from the county via rumor. All these entities seem to have forgotten that we’re going to be in dire straights here,” MacFarland said.

Beech-Nut currently pays the village for about 1.3 million gallons of water daily, and that usage will disappear once the company moves out, MacFarland said.

“So we get this huge debt and they’re going to leave us and nobody’s talking to us,” MacFarland said.

Another concern is the Richardson Brands facility in the village — the building, which currently houses about 140 employees in the candy-making business, is heated by a boiler in the Beech-Nut factory down the road. Beech-Nut used to own the Richardson Brands’ facility for making gum, MacFarland said.

Once Beech-Nut leaves, the candy-maker will need some way to heat its facility.

Canajoharie has taken several steps toward improving the appearance of the village, with a variety of facade improvement projects and the development of the riverfront park, much of which made use of government funding. The village also demolished old Beech-Nut buildings and built parking lots to accommodate the loss of parking through the village center on state Route 10, for which the state Department of Transportation intends to assume maintenance and responsibility.

But after years of planning and discussion, the DOT told the village it has to spend $1.4 million replacing infrastructure beneath the roadway before that happens, and the village doesn’t have the money to do that.

Rebuilding state Route 10 and a portion of state Route 5S in the village is considered an important element of the village’s growth as a heritage tourism community, and village officials say they want the state to either pay for the infrastructure or go ahead with rebuilding the road without it.

Canajoharie Mayor Leigh W. Fuller did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Canajoharie Town Supervisor Robert McMahon on Thursday said he has made several efforts to provide updates to the village when he gets them. McMahon said he learned from Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose that the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers is poised to approve a permit required for the construction of the new Beech-Nut facility in the town of Florida, slated for this spring.

McMahon said he learned ground breaking is planned for May or June, which would mean baby food will start being produced there in early 2010.

Beyond that, McMahon said, “the company did not want to discuss any other issues. Basically, they’re trying to get the new factory off the ground,” McMahon said.

McMahon said he believes officials will have a better feel for exactly how much Beech-Nut related debt the village faces once the factory is built.

“You can’t do everything at the same time,” McMahon said.

Stefanie Zakowicz, a spokeswoman at Empire State Development’s Mohawk Valley Regional Office, said Thursday that Regional Director Kenneth M. Tompkins is aware of village officials concerns.

“[Zakowicz] is certainly reaching out to the mayor and wants to work with them and work with the community and see what we can do. We’re only in the first steps of that,” Zakowicz said.

“Are we listening and are we paying attention? Absolutely. They have Ken’s full attention and he’s working with them and we hope we can do something that can help benefit the community,” Zakowicz said.

Hunter Public Relations representative Stephanie LaDue, which is handling Hero and Beech-Nut’s press inquiries, on Thursday said company officials were reviewing village officials’ communications and were unable to comment.

MacFarland said village trustees are hoping their plea will spark regular communication among them, state and Hero or Beech-Nut representatives.

“It’s frustrating that we had to go through all of this, but nobody really kept us in the loop in the whole thing,” MacFarland said.

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