Demolition of 16 warehouse buildings at the former Beech-Nut plant has come to a halt as the owner of the property has not paid asbestos cleanup bills, the village’s mayor said.
To resume work, Todd Clifford would have to pay the bill and the company demolishing the warehouses must complete asbestos abatement training, which could take as much as two months, Mayor Francis Avery said. After that, the state Labor Department must approve resumption of work at the site.
The department shut down demolition last year because of improper asbestos removal, Avery said, and work wasn’t restarted until earlier this year.
“They had to be shut down again,” he said. “They didn’t pay the bills, and they didn’t have the proper certification. It’s just another obstacle in this whole process.”
Last month, Avery told the Daily Gazette demolition of the warehouses on the east end of the property was “right on track,” with three buildings being leveled in the last three months.
He said several companies have attempted to complete the demolition over the past year, but they were shut down by the Labor Department because asbestos was released inside the building.
Meanwhile, the owner of the property owes the village, the town of Canajoharie and Montgomery County roughly a half-million dollars in property taxes, according to county Treasurer Shawn Bowerman.
Clifford had said he was going to seek a reassessment of the complex — for which he paid $200,000 — to reflect its value as an empty shell awaiting demolition or redevelopment, rather than a functioning factory, but as of Wednesday night, its assessment was $4,025,000.
Bowerman said the owner of the massive baby food factory that dominated the landscape for more than a century has not paid taxes since he purchased the property in December 2013.
Beech-Nut moved baby food production to a new factory in the town of Florida in 2011, taking with it hundreds of jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars that had gone into the local economy.
County and village officials have had little contact with Clifford since a meeting in late spring 2014, Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose said.
“We really haven’t had much contact with him at all,” he said. “He talked about entering into a PILOT program, and we sent him an application,, but we haven’t heard anything since then. Obviously with his tax situation being what it is now, he would have to pay everything before he could do anything.”
Rose added that if Clifford does not pay his back taxes by next spring, the county could foreclose on the property.
Clifford, co-owner of Ohio-based TD Development LLC, a company specializing in the rehabilitation of old industrial buildings, could not be reached for comment, but in January 2014, he told The Gazette about his plans to demolish buildings containing 300,000 square feet of floor space that summer. He said he would open the remainder to warehouse industries and use the newly vacant land for parking and the loading and unloading of large trucks.
Within two or three years, he said then, there would be a gas station and fast-food restaurant at the adjacent Thruway exit and light manufacturing in the western section of the building.
Avery said the unpaid tax bill is hurting the village’s finances as he and the board try to plan the budget for next year.
“That’s more than $100,000 we are missing out on, and in a small village, that is almost 10 percent of our tax levy,” he said. “Originally, when the factory left, people were worried about the employment opportunities, but there are also hidden problems that people didn’t think of. We lose the water and sewer sales to that property, and if the county takes over, we lose the property tax.
“We basically have an austerity budget, and we have cut everything we can, but we still have 11 miles of road, 14 miles of sewer lines and 25 miles of water lines to maintain. In the end, we lose and the schools lose.”
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