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Yogurt plant expansion stalled as Johnstown, Gloversville stand firm in land sale fight

Yogurt plant expansion stalled as Johnstown, Gloversville stand firm in land sale fight

Gloversville has raised the stakes in its standoff with Johnstown over the sale of land the two citi

Gloversville has raised the stakes in its standoff with Johnstown over the sale of land the two cities own to Fage USA for its proposed $100 million yogurt plant expansion.

Gloversville officials are now insisting that Johnstown agree to an amendment to their joint operating agreement for the sewage treatment plant as part of the sale.

Gloversville Ward 2 Councilman John Castiglione said the City Council and mayor will not sign the land sale contract until they obtain a change in 1964 joint operating agreement for the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility, even if their refusal scuttles the Fage expansion project.

“I think what will happen next is Fage may move out of the area. That will be unfortunate and that is not something we want. But we feel strongly about the sewer agreement. We want the sewer deal amended no matter what. It is in Johnstown’s hands right now,” Castiglione said.

Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland said she is willing to discuss amending the agreement, but only after the sale of the land to Fage and after a review of what the changes may impart. “The ball is in their court,” she said.

Gloversville officials staked out their position following a closed-door meeting Wednesday night with their Johnstown counterparts. The meeting’s purpose was to resolve their differences over the sale of a jointly owned 2-acre parcel to Fage for $28,000. The meeting ended without an agreement. Slingerland said she has not scheduled any further meetings with Gloversville over the issue.

Both sides issued news releases after the meeting. “Johnstown officials are disappointed that Gloversville is attempting to negotiate Fage’s purchase of the land through a totally unrelated demand to amend the agreement,” Slingerland said in her release.

Gloversville Mayor Dayton King countered: “We continue to believe that there is no legitimate basis for the city of Johnstown to maintain its present position on this issue, and it is hoped Johnstown approves the amendment to the sewer agreement so that the Fage transaction can proceed in expeditious fashion.”

King said the agreement has been amended 11 times through the years and one more amendment shouldn’t be a problem.

Fage wants to construct a pre-treatment facility on the parcel, which is adjacent to the sewage treatment plant in the city of Johnstown, as part of plans to double the size of its yogurt-manufacturing plant in the Johnstown Industrial Park. The company would add 150 jobs as part of the expansion; it already employs 160 people on site. It hopes to break ground on the project in 2012.

The Johnstown Common Council unanimously approved a contract to sell the land Monday, and Wednesday night Slingerland agreed to give Gloversville 75 percent of the sale proceeds, rather than 45 percent as stipulated under the current operating agreement. King had earlier made this a condition for the land sale.

Gloversville’s City Council has yet to agree to the deal, pending approval of the clause. The clause would permit either city to veto a sewer line expansion or connection only if the wastewater plant cannot handle the additional capacity, Castiglione said.

The current agreement requires both city councils to approve sewer line hookups to parcels outside their corporate limits. Castiglione said this allows “Johnstown [to] impede future growth in Gloversville for political or personal reasons,” citing the Johnstown Common Council’s veto in 2009 of requests by the Fulton County Federal Credit Union to extend sewer hookups to two undeveloped parcels on Route 30A in the town of Johnstown and five nearby residential properties on Kingsboro Avenue Extension.

Gloversville eventually annexed the parcels from the town of Johnstown, which allowed it to run sewer lines to them without the city of Johnstown’s permission, but it has to share property tax revenues with the town from whatever is built there. The Johnstown Common Council took action after City Treasurer Michael Gifford sent a memo to Slingerland and the council in which he called some of the sewer connections a threat to the Johnstown commercial tax base.

Slingerland on Thursday denied the city has ever impeded growth in Gloversville. “It was never our intent to hold Gloversville back,” she said, explaining that the council did not approve the extra hookups for the credit union because “it is irresponsible to give sewer to vacant lots. When a project comes up, we will look at it.”

Both cities through the years have vetoed sewer hookups to projects outside of their corporate limits, said George Bevington, manager of the wastewater treatment plant.

Another example was Gloversvillle’s veto in 2005 of a sewer line to Fulton-Montgomery Community College and a new BOCES campus on Route 67.

“This has been a contentious issue over the years,” he said.

Bevington, who has worked with Fage officials on the project, said he hopes the cities resolve the issue “and that this still moves forward. This is one of the most significant projects to come before us in years.”

He said Fage has not specified a deadline for the land sale contract, but “they need a decision made sooner than later. If it is not going to happen, they have to figure out their options.”

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