Residents offer mixed views on Beech-Nut suit

Residents voiced concern Tuesday over the Village Board’s decision to pursue a lawsuit over the impe

Residents voiced concern Tuesday over the Village Board’s decision to pursue a lawsuit over the impending departure of the Beech-Nut baby food manufacturing operation.

The village Board of Trustees last week authorized attorney Norman Mastromoro to start gathering research aimed at drafting an Article 78 lawsuit with the primary goal of obtaining either money or a written assurance the village won’t suffer economically upon the relocation of the company, which is slated to move out by 2010.

That decision, some residents said, is a bad one.

Dolores Thompson-Jacksland, president of the Canajoharie-Palatine Chamber of Commerce, said she believes the assurances from representatives of the family-owned Hero Group that they will find companies to make use of the facilities being abandoned in Canajoharie.

Thompson-Jacksland said she feared filing a lawsuit could ultimately cause the Hero Group to leave New York altogether.

“You are elected by the majority of the citizens. … Please let Article 78 die on the table tonight,” Thompson-Jacksland said.

Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. broke ground in Montgomery County’s Florida Business Park in May. The $124 million project is expected to maintain 350 existing positions in the county and add another 135 jobs.

Officials during the past year crafted an incentive package for the Hero Group, which owns Beech-Nut, but some officials in the village contend none of that work included any assurances the village would be unharmed.

Two residents at Tuesday’s meeting spoke in favor of the village’s plans to file a lawsuit.

Randall Hogue said he spoke personally with state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, about the issue. Hogue said despite a year of work by officials, Canajoharie has not received any official word on plans for what will follow Beech-Nut’s departure.

Resident Alan Briggs said he sent a letter to the office of the New York state comptroller alleging that the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency violated numerous laws, including provisions of the state Environmental Quality Review process.

The SEQR process typically requires project developers to assess the economic impact a project might have on affected areas, and Briggs said the village of Canajoharie is not among those reviewed during that process.

Briggs alleged that there are federal laws that prohibit spending public money to move jobs from one economically depressed area to another.

Officials are laying out more than $100 million in incentives, including a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, grants and tax breaks for the company.

“In my way of thinking, the board is taking some responsible first steps,” Briggs said.

Canajoharie Town Supervisor Robert McMahon said threats of a lawsuit, which could be directed at the Montgomery County IDA, essentially cuts off communication between the village and other officials.

McMahon said the village has alienated the IDA, county supervisors and the county’s economic development office because attorneys are advising them not to talk with the village while the possibility of a lawsuit exists.

If the village goes through with filing a lawsuit, McMahon said, residents will be paying for attorneys on both sides as well.

McMahon also urged officials to be cautious because the Hero Group/Beech-Nut is a family owned company.

“They can lock the door tomorrow morning and leave,” McMahon said.

Village Trustee Jeffrey Baker said research into a lawsuit is seen as the only way the village can protect its citizens.

Baker said water and sewer rates would skyrocket upon the departure of company, which is the village’s biggest user of those services.

Baker said several officials from government and the company have said they wouldn’t leave the village stranded but words aren’t enough.

“Unfortunately, it was never put in writing,” Baker said.

Village Mayor Leigh Fuller said he spoke with a Beech-Nut official Tuesday and said that official asked if there was any way the village could slow down its lawsuit process. He said he would discuss the matter with the trustees.

“It’s a very dismal looking picture out there,” Fuller said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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