Montgomery County officials are going after $850,000 in state and federal grant money to explore options for the remediation and eventual development of the decaying Beech-Nut site in the Village of Canajoharie.
The three grant options being discussed include $150,000 from the NYS Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, $500,000 from the state Restore New York Communities Initiative, and a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The 26-acre site, which includes the former baby food factory and several warehouses, is owned by TD Development LLC, an Ohio-based development company that owes more than $500,000 in back taxes.
Montgomery County must decide whether they want to foreclose on the property, which would render them at least partially liable for the cost of cleaning up the site. Environmental hazards at the site include the presence of asbestos and extensive mold and water damage.
County Executive Matt Ossenfort said at a meeting with Canajoharie residents on Wednesday that a county study earlier this year determined it would cost $6 million to $10 million for demolition and remediation of the site, and tens of millions more to develop it for a use that has yet to be determined. The study, funded by the county’s industrial development agency, was the first phase of a required environmental site assessment.
In the second phase the EPA took about 50 soil samples at the site earlier in August for contamination analysis. The agency will release a report to the county in November that will give a better picture of contamination levels than was previously available.
“Phase two will help us get much more specific with those numbers,” said Ossenfort, noting that during the initial phase the county and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation did not have access to the site.
“Once we know what’s in the ground we’ll know how much it will cost to clean it up,” added county attorney Meghan Manion. “There’s different levels of cleanup depending on what the final use at the site will be, so we need to get a handle on all those factors.”
The question of what specifically to do with the grant money will be made if and when the county obtains the funds. Andrew Santillo, a spokesman for the county, said the money will go towards actual work at the site as opposed to funding more studies.
Ossenfort told residents the process is still in the very early stages, and the county will know more after they get the EPA’s soil report in November.
Ossenfort said it’s not an option to continue to do nothing and let the environmental hazards at Beech-Nut worsen.
“That site has to get cleaned up, and if the county and the village don’t work together to do it, it’s not going to happen,” said Ossenfort. “So I think it’s imperative, regardless of how things work out, that we find a way to get to the end point that we’re looking to get to.”
Village residents are concerned that if the county assumes ownership of the site, rehabilitating it will translate to increased taxes.
“What I want to know here is whatever happens, it isn’t coming back on me as a taxpayer,” said one village resident at Wednesday night’s meeting.
Ossenfort said the county would be exploring all options in an effort to avoid having county taxpayers foot the bill of cleaning up Beech-Nut.
“There’s no stone unturned when it comes to trying to figure out where we can fund things that need to be funded,” Ossenfort said.
It’s unclear how liable Beech-Nut and TD Development are for funding the cleanup of the site. Ossenfort said both entities are in the “chain of title” and will be held responsible to some degree.
Roy Dimond, county legislator for District 3, which includes Canajoharie, said lawmakers are in favor of the plan.
“The consensus of the legislature is that we wholeheartedly support this process,” said Dimond at Wednesday’s meeting.
Ossenfort said in their thinking officials have split the site into two different projects.
“We’re looking at this as two projects, east and west,” said Ossenfort. “The eastern portion has significantly less demolition and remediation costs than the western portion, so we think we’ll have the ability to see action much sooner on the eastern side than on the western side.”
The eastern portion of the project is 15 acres, he said, while the western portion, known as the Church Street side, is made up of the remaining 11 acres.
“The western side, we’re more focused on building stabilization and numerous studies that will give us the information we need to identify and potentially look at selective demolition and reuse for the buildings,” said Ossenfort.
Manion stressed that it’s “way too early” to know what the site’s final use will be, and that the county must undertake a real estate feasibility study, market analysis and a building condition survey, among other information-gathering initiatives.
Manion also said stakeholder involvement is important “to integrate the village stakeholders in this process. It’s in the middle of the community, it’s a third of the downtown. Getting the core of the village involved is really important.”
Ossenfort said the county will involve Canajoharie residents and officials during every step in the process.
“There’s a permanent seat at the table for any and all of these items for the village, absolutely,” he said.
Canajoharie Village Mayor Francis Avery said he’s confident that the county is keeping the village involved in the process, and agrees with Ossenfort’s assessment that something needs to be done.
“The county is trying to move forward on this; they’re very sincere in their efforts to work with us in redeveloping the site,” said Avery. “We realize it will take a very long time but I think we’ll be able to work well with them and make a good team.”