Canajoharie residents pile on criticism for debris remaining on property more than year after fire

Neighbor Janine Nelson, showing property of 58 Otsego Street fire from over a year ago in Village of Canajoharie on Tuesday, June 7, 2022.

Neighbor Janine Nelson, showing property of 58 Otsego Street fire from over a year ago in Village of Canajoharie on Tuesday, June 7, 2022.

CANAJOHARIE – Amy Koons’ 59-year-old mother, Carol Swank, has COPD and requires oxygen to breathe. She also lives next to a stinking debris pile at 58 Otsego Street that’s been there since a fire destroyed a boarding home on the property more than a year ago.

Koons is one of many residents demanding that the Village of Canajoharie clean up the mess. The village, which does not currently own the uninsured property, says it’s working with Montgomery County to take steps to clean up the eyesore and potential health hazard, according to Village Mayor Jeff Baker.

About a half dozen residents spoke about the debris pile at Tuesday night’s Village Board meeting in Canajoharie. Several others packed the narrow meeting hall in support of the neighbors.

“It’s the village’s responsibility to get off their [expletive] to do something. It is not the community’s place to have to deal with it,” Koons, 40, said ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. She lives next door to the property with her mother, three brothers and several family children, ranging in age from 5 to 17, and said she is worried about everything from her mother’s health to critter infestation–she’s even purchased snake repellent. “They need to get in there and clean it for the safety of the community, for the health of the community.”

Mayor Baker said the village is working with Montgomery County to foreclose on the property and transfer it to the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank, which could take care of the cleanup.

Complicating the matter is that the Village Board recently voted to end its affiliation with the land bank. After Tuesday’s meeting, Baker said he would be adding an agenda item to next month’s board meeting to discuss future collaboration between the land bank and the village.

Tolga Morawski, the land bank’s executive director, said his organization was willing to help clear the property. He estimated the controlled demolition, which would have to deal with potential asbestos contamination, could be completed in two months and cost between $25,000 and $30,000. The land bank receives state funding to restore or clear properties around the Mohawk Valley.

“The land bank is here to help,” Morawski told the board on Tuesday.

Baker said the cleanup has been stalled, in part, because there has been confusion about who owned the former boarding house. Someone who claimed to be the owner didn’t have the deed, according to the mayor. In addition, that person told the village he was bankrupt and wouldn’t be able to pay to clear the property, Baker said.

Residents are growing impatient with the pile, which is a tangled mess of wood, plastic and wires standing at least 8 feet high in some spots. Everything from electronics to mops to bricks were visible on Tuesday.

Janine Nelson lives across the street from the site. Nelson, who has lived in her house for decades, said the pile still smells of mold.

“Neighbors have been extremely patient for an entire year and more,” Nelson said. “There are a lot of excuses and explanations for it being there for more than a year. Excuses for just not dealing with it can no longer be accepted. Do something aggressive, and let’s deal with it now.”

The fire at the boarding house at 58 Otsego Street occurred in late May of 2021. No one was injured, but the structure was a complete loss.

Montgomery County Emergency Management Office crews demolished the burned structure but left the ruins. The cleanup is the responsibility of the property owner, with the village leading enforcement efforts, said Rick Sager, the county’s Emergency Management Office director.

Residents are also worried about a second site on Wheeler Street, which intersects Otsego Street. An April fire destroyed a vacant home on Wheeler Street, and it has since housed a similar pile of twisted debris.

Reached by phone on Tuesday night, Owner Bob Flint said he has hired a contractor to clean up the Wheeler Street property, but he was awaiting go-ahead to complete the work after Clifton Dorrough, the village’s code enforcement officer, alerted Flint to possible asbestos on the property.

“The village has red-flagged me, so I have to address that alleged problem,” Flint said. He estimated his property would be cleared and top-soiled in a matter of weeks.

For now, the two debris piles in close proximity are a bad look for the village, said Robert Teixeira, who lives on Otsego Street and is also the deputy supervisor in the Town of Canajoharie.

“Enough is enough,” Teixeira said. “When people see that debris pile and they find out how long it’s been there, they are going to think this town is dead.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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