Montgomery County

Demolition shaping up for western end of former Canajoharie Beech-Nut plant

The former Canajoharie Beech-Nut plant seen recently from the New York State Thruway.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The former Canajoharie Beech-Nut plant seen recently from the New York State Thruway.

FONDA — The stage is nearly set for a fresh start at the former Beech-Nut plant at Thruway Exit 29. Plans to demolish the site’s western structures just need to be finalized.

“It’s certainly going to have a considerable visual impact, it’s going to look different than it has in decades,” Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said.

The Montgomery County Legislature last week authorized an amendment to the existing contract with LiRo Group for engineering and supervising the site redevelopment to include oversight of the forthcoming demolitions.

The firm will receive approximately $361,163 for the added work, raising the total cost of the contract to $1.11 million since the project began in 2018.

A $4.07 million contract with Ritter and Paratore Contracting Inc. to actually perform the demolition and a $4.3 million bond resolution to cover the expenses are expected to be approved during a special Dec. 6 meeting at 6 p.m.

Both items were on the agenda for last week’s Legislature meeting, but absences prevented the body from acting on the resolutions that each require approval by at least a two-thirds majority of the full board. Only five legislators were present out of the nine.

“Even the ones who weren’t able to be there are in support of it, absolutely,” said Legislature Chairman Michael Pepe.

TRANSFORMATIONAL DEMOLITION

A total of 22 buildings encompassing roughly 310,000 square feet combined will be torn down on the roughly 6.9-acre western end. Asbestos and other hazardous materials were previously removed from the structures.

That portion of the property has been marketed for redevelopment by the Montgomery County Business Development Center, but officials believe the deteriorating buildings have been a barrier to developers pursuing projects at the site despite general interest.

“The demolition of these buildings is going to enhance its curb appeal and certainly create an open book for it to be developed,” Pepe said.

Officials previously said work should take around 10 months and be completed by late next year. Demolition debris will be hauled away for final disposal with some materials used to fill the basements of existing structures in order to bring the site up to ground level.

“It is going to be a clean site,” Ossenfort said. “It is exciting to see progress and things move forward.”

Redevelopment of the entire 26.9-acre former plant has been a focus for the county since it acquired the property through foreclosure in 2017. The plant was shuttered after Beech-Nut relocated to the town of Florida in 2010.

“Canajoharie was a one-horse town, when Beech-Nut left, there were a lot of consequences for people,” Ossenfort said.

The subsequent owner stripped the site of scrap materials before it went through foreclosure. Ossenfort said officials agreed acquiring the site, in order to prevent it from becoming a greater eyesore, and fostering its redevelopment needed to be a priority to bolster the community and the county.

Planning, remediation and some demolition work have already been performed across the property through the approximately $6.5 million in reimbursable state grants awarded to the county towards redeveloping the site.

Pepe estimated around $4.6 million of the available funding has already been used with the remainder to repay a portion of the demolition bond. The rest of the debt service will be paid over time by the county.

“This is our local share, this is the county having skin in the game to finish off this project. We never anticipated it was going to be fully funded, but the majority of the project has been funded by state grants,” Ossenfort said.

ADVANCING PROGRESS

The 19.6-acre eastern end is already poised for redevelopment under a $550,000 purchase option agreement with cannabis cultivators, E29 Labs. The company is pursuing a license through the New York State Office of Cannabis Management before closing on the deal.

E29 Labs plans to build a $15-to- $30 million cannabis cultivation facility over three phases in a mix of new and existing buildings at the site. The entire project will create up to 500 jobs.

The county will continue marketing the western end of the property for redevelopment as demolition plans take shape. Officials previously indicated commercial and residential uses are preferred for the site guided by local outreach conducted over the years.

“We would love to put people to work and see private sector investment, but we want to make sure it’s something that will complement downtown and not cannibalize it,” Ossenfort said.

Redevelopment of the site should focus on selecting the “highest and best” use for the highly visible site along the Thruway in order to benefit Canajoharie and surrounding Montgomery County, Pepe said.

“This should really be something that leaves a positive impression with the thousands of vehicles that pass it everyday,” the chairman said.

SOLVING ABSENCES

The demolition contract and bond resolution need to be approved before the Legislature’s regular meeting late next month, prompting the special session, Pepe said.

Yet, the resolutions potentially could have been acted on last week, despite the physical absences, if the Legislature had enacted a local law enabling meeting attendance and participation by video conferencing earlier this year.

Local governments were able to meet and conduct business remotely throughout the pandemic under a state executive order. Those provisions elapsed in June, but an amendment to Open Meetings Law included in the 2022 state budget allows local laws to be adopted enabling officials to participate in public meetings through video conferencing.

Although some officials voiced support for the remote option, the seven members of the Montgomery County Legislature present for the full board meeting in June voted down a local law permitting video conferencing. Detractors worried the measure could be abused by officials skipping in-person meetings without valid reasons.

Legislators in favor of the measure indicated they voted against the law to preserve their ability to bring it up again in the future knowing that it lacked the support needed to pass. Pepe favored the remote option, but was absent from the meeting and automatically recorded as a “no” vote.

“I thought it was natural progression that we learned something from the pandemic that this is a viable means to meet when numbers might be short to physically attend a meeting, and there are others who felt our job as politicians is to show up,” Pepe said.

The Legislature faced recurring absences last year due to the illnesses of District 6 Legislator John Duchessi and former District 8 Legislator Joe Isabel, who died in January 2022. A lack of consensus among officials to appoint a successor meant Isabel’s seat remained vacant and has been automatically recorded as a “no” vote on every piece of legislation this year.

The absences of District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell, District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond and Duchessi at last week’s meeting, along with the remaining vacancy, prevented the resolutions requiring a supermajority from being considered. Legislators withdrew their sponsorship to delay action until the special meeting when sufficient numbers are expected in attendance.

“Obviously it’s been an obstacle we’ve had to deal with the past couple of years, but moreso this year,” Pepe said of absences.

Still, he was unsure whether the local law to enable video conferencing would be revisited. He indicated it will likely be up to the next Legislature chairman appointed at the organizational meeting in January. The board will again have nine members when District 8 Legislator-elect Maria Flint Kowalczyk is sworn in.

“Under new leadership, maybe it will be considered, because of the hardships it’s created as in this instance creating a need for a completely separate meeting so we could entertain resolutions that need a supermajority of six positive votes,” Pepe said.

The delayed action to formalize plans for the Beech-Nut demolition is sufficient cause to reconsider the video conferencing law, according to Ossenfort.

“We may not have had the issues we’re having,” Ossenfort said. “I don’t anticipate this being a recurring theme, but it begs the question that if we had that in place it could have been utilized … I think it makes sense.”

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News, News

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