The Montgomery County Legislature voted Tuesday night to foreclose on the Beech-Nut site in Canajoharie after the county was released from environmental liens on the property held by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“It’s been a long process to get to this benchmark, and I’m very excited we’re here,” said Chairman of the Legislature Roy Dimond after the vote.
The decision hinged upon an agreement between the county and the EPA, which stated that the county would not be held financially responsible for environmental contamination -- mostly asbestos-related -- at the site. The agreement further stipulates that if the county were to eventually sell the site, that 50 percent of the purchase price would go to the federal agency.
Dimond said the agreement covers any future costs the EPA would incur for asbestos cleanup at the site, and hold the county harmless for the cost of such a cleanup.
County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said the EPA has already spent money to clean up asbestos piles left behind by the former owner, Connecticut-based TD Development LLC.
Ossenfort said being released from the liens -- two totaling $4 million -- was crucial in the county taking steps to foreclose on the property.
“Without resolving the lien issue a foreclosure certainly could have exposed us to some liability,” said Ossenfort. “This entire package is one that's good for the county and I think fair for both sides.”
The county has already secured nearly $1 million in grants and other funding to rehabilitate the eastern portion of the property, which comprises a little more than half of the 26-acre site.
Ossenfort said the county will be lining up a contractor to remove asbestos piles from the property while the 30-day foreclosure process is completed. He added that county officials hope the work, which also includes demolishing buildings, will start at the site in the fall using the grant money.
The county has secured $500,000 in a state Restore New York grant for the asbestos and demolition work. In addition, the county’s Industrial Development Agency applied for a grant from National Grid’s Brownfield Redevelopment Program and was awarded $300,000 by the company. The program provides grants to fund utility-related infrastructure improvement projects and other costs necessary to aid in the redevelopment of a brownfield site, a federal designation which the Beech-Nut site falls under.
The eastern portion of the property is regarded as a priority by county officials due to the existence of water and sewer hookups, as well as the absence of historical structures that are present on the western half of the site.
The EPA recently ordered Beech-Nut, which primarily manufactures baby food, to pay for the asbestos cleanup at the site, but the company refused. The agency claims the company commissioned a 2012 survey -- one year before the sale of the property to TD Development -- that estimated asbestos abatement work would cost $1.7 million to clean just the eastern half of the site.
It’s unclear if the EPA will take action against Beech-Nut for defying their order to clean the site up. An agency spokesman said EPA will not be commenting on their posture toward Beech-Nut because it is an ongoing enforcement matter.
As for TD Development, which bought the property from Beech-Nut in 2013, Montgomery County officials maintain that the company owes more than $1.7 million in back taxes. TD Development owner Todd Clifford has not responded to inquiries from the county in over a year, and Ossenfort said he doesn’t expect Clifford to fight the foreclosure.
“I don’t expect to hear from any of the former owners,” said Ossenfort.
Whether and how the county or another entity will pursue Clifford for repayment of back taxes and for his allegedly stripping the site of valuable metals and abandoning it is unclear. Ossenfort said his office is aware that Clifford bears some responsibility for the site and will be looking further into the matter.
The county hopes to eventually turn the eastern portion of the site into a business or industrial park and use it to attract corporate tenants or a developer interested in building something on the property.
Ossenfort said the process to rehabilitate the site will be a long one, but that it’s a county priority as far as he’s concerned.
“This is about making steady progress over a number of years, that’s the game plan,” said Ossenfort, who estimated that rehabilitating and marketing the site will be a five- to seven-year process. “It’s really going to depend on how successful we are in bringing in resources and the private sector.”
Village of Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery, who attended Tuesday night’s meeting of the Legislature, said foreclosure is a big step forward for the site and the residents of Canajoharie.
“Now we can work with the county and begin to make things happen,” Avery said. “It’s 26 acres right in the heart of the village, and we now have an opportunity to redevelop some of it, to tear some of it down ... and begin fresh.”