The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered baby food maker Beech Nut to clean up their former manufacturing facility in the village of Canajoharie, which the company sold to a developer in 2013 that has not paid property taxes.
The 26.9-acre facility sits off of I-90 in Canajoharie, and has been declared a superfund site by the federal agency due to asbestos contamination. The EPA announced this week that it was spraying debris piles containing asbestos with a sealant that will prevent the hazardous substance from spreading into the air.
The agency’s order, dated April 13, requires Beech Nut to remove materials contaminated with asbestos from the site. The EPA said the company knew that the site was contaminated in 2012, before they sold the property to a developer. The agency claims Beech Nut commissioned a survey in 2012 that estimated asbestos abatement work would cost $1.7 million to clean just half of the site.
Beech Nut operated a canning and food manufacturing facility at the site from 1891 to 2010, when due to flooding the company moved to the nearby town of Florida.
According to the order, the company sold the property in 2013 to Ohio-based developer Todd Clifford, who owns a company called TD Development LLC. The original purchase price of $1 million was driven down to $200,000 after it was learned how much asbestos abatement work would be required at the site.
Some asbestos and demolition work was performed at the site in 2014 and 2015, but went unfinished. Meanwhile, the decaying and leaking structures, combined with the known presence of asbestos, were cause for concern for county and Canajoharie officials.
The EPA order says Clifford sold the property in 2014 to Jeffrey Wendel, a business associate and executive at a demolition company. It also says at the time that Wendel was “doing business as TD Development LLC.”
Regardless of who owns the site, Montgomery County officials maintain neither Clifford nor Wendel have paid taxes on the property since 2013, resulting in a $1.7 million property tax bill. Neither Clifford nor Wendell could be reached for comment.
In 2015, the state Department of Environmental Conservation asked the EPA to evaluate debris piles and other materials at the site for asbestos removal. The county was at the same time considering foreclosing on and redeveloping the property but had concerns over being held liable for contamination at the site.
The county has since worked with the EPA and DEC on a site rehabilitation plan, and recently secured nearly $1 million in state and federal grants for demolition work on the eastern portion of the site to eventually turn it into a shovel-ready business or industrial park.
Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said his office is working with the EPA on an agreement to release the county from any liability for asbestos or other contamination. The release is crucial to foreclosing on the property, he said.
Ossenfort said county officials weren’t surprised that the EPA ordered Beech Nut to clean the site up.
“We knew that at some point it was likely the EPA or DEC was going to engage the previous owners on the site,” said Ossenfort. “EPA initiated that, so it wasn’t altogether a surprise.”
Ossenfort said the order doesn’t affect the county’s plan to redevelop the site.
“We’re moving forward and are looking at a potential foreclosure in June,” said Ossenfort.
He added that his office is working to secure an additional $2 million in state grants toward redeveloping the property. Working with the county, the village recently filed papers in court to gain access to the site.
Ossenfort said the filing seeks to demolish five buildings and three bridges on the eastern side of the site, adjacent to Exit 29 of the New York State Thruway.
Asked if any legal protest from Beech Nut could complicate the process, Ossenfort said the county would “cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“I’d like to see Beech Nut really be part of doing something positive on the site rather than this simply being a legal endeavor,” he said.
Representatives for Beech Nut could not be reached for comment.