Op-ed column: State, county should assist village after Beech-Nut goes

Lots of harsh words have been flying around the village of Canajoharie ever since the village board

Lots of harsh words have been flying around the village of Canajoharie ever since the village board made it known on June 26 that it was considering filing a lawsuit against the Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency and/or Beech-Nut Corp., unless the village receives written guarantees of compensation for the financial impact that Beech-Nut’s move will have on the village.

Canajoharie Town Supervisor Robert McMahon called the board’s action absurd and said the board members should resign. Former Mayor Ronald Dievendorf called the village’s actions reprehensible.

Joseph Santangelo, president and chief executive officer of the Arkell Hall Foundation Inc., went beyond words and, apparently in protest of the village board’s decision, resigned from an ad-hoc committee that was set up a year ago to deal with Canajoharie’s future.

One could argue that the threat of a lawsuit is premature, particularly since a few days after the news of a potential lawsuit, state Sen. Hugh Farley announced a $500,000 grant to help Canajoharie deal with the loss of Beech-Nut. But one can also argue that the reaction to the proposed lawsuit was poorly thought out and overblown. Santangelo’s resignation from the committee seems to have been impetuous; any discussion of Canajoharie’s future must involve the Arkell Hall Foundation. For the good of the community, Santangelo needs to rescind his resignation and rejoin the committee.

Parochial politics

I have no stake in the future of Canajoharie. As a matter of fact, I live within sight and sound of the new Beech-Nut facility, but I do not believe in parochial politics. Parochial attitudes and politicians that pander to them are behind many of New York state’s ills.

But I do love the village of Canajoharie. I always have. It is one of the finest villages in the Mohawk Valley. Its world-class art museum, library, antique shops, riverfront park, architecture and more are very attractive, and the same commitment made in writing to save Beech-Nut needs to be made to save the village of Canajoharie.

That’s what has not been done. Verbal promises have been made (see www.beechnutbuilds.com ), but that’s not enough. Words, like a mirage of water on the road ahead, have a way of drying up when we travel farther down the road.

Canajoharie stands to lose a lot when Beech-Nut moves out. Former village trustee Alan Briggs has argued that the move will cost the village $1.9 million in lost water and sewer rents alone (see www.beechnutfacts.com). Former Mayor Randall Hogue claims that the school district will lose another $186,000 per year in property taxes.

Downtown businesses will lose income because 350 Beech-Nut employees will no longer be spending money in their stores.

Potential liabilities

Another potential expense is that of the Beech-Nut buildings themselves that squat on 25 acres in downtown Canajoharie. Supervisor McMahon sees the empty buildings in Canajoharie as an asset and believes they will eventually house new businesses. Maybe. But they may also become liabilities, like many of the empty factory buildings in Amsterdam.

Modern production methods often make it hard to use old factory buildings. Indeed, this is one of Beech-Nut’s purported reasons for moving out. And it’s anyone’s guess as to what environmental remediation may need to be done within these buildings. These buildings were also flooded in 2006, and their position on a flood plain may make them difficult to sell. If they eventually have to be demolished, as has been the case with so many old factories throughout the Mohawk Valley, the cost will be enormous.

In a letter to Farley, Briggs said, “If Beech-Nut were using their own money to finance this move or if NY State and Montgomery County’s $104 million dollars total financial assistance in their move, were legally being expended, this financial loss to the Village would only be our sour grapes.”

I agree totally. Since taxpayers’ money was used to move Beech-Nut, then it only makes sense that taxpayers’ money is needed to assist Canajoharie. If Montgomery County and New York state can provide written guarantees of more than $100 million to help Beech-Nut move, then there is no reason why they cannot provide Canajoharie with similar written guarantees.

There is a lot of fear in Canajoharie these days. I know because several people have called me and expressed that fear. I also sense that some Canajoharie residents feel betrayed. They feel that much of what was planned for Canajoharie was done behind closed doors, at the county and state level, with little regard for the village board or residents of Canajoharie.

With the possible exception of Sen. Farley, most Montgomery County and New York state leaders seem to neither sense nor understand that fear and sense of betrayal, thus their negative reaction to a possible lawsuit. While the $500,000 grant to Canajoharie is a good sign, it is not enough to remedy Canajoharie’s problems. Until more grants come through, or written guarantees of help, from Beech-Nut, Montgomery County and the state of New York, the village of Canajoharie should not shelve the idea of a lawsuit.

Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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