Water bottler awaits power hookup

JOHNSTOWN – C.G. Roxane has finished building its massive water bottling plant in a remote section of town, but it will still be at least a month before the facility has power, and it could be as late as April before the first bottle rolls off the line.

Fulton County Planning Director Jim Mraz told the Board of Supervisors’ Building & Grounds Committee on Monday the building and site work have been completed, and workers are installing the equipment that will allow the company to draw 310,000 gallons of water from a watershed owned by the village of Canajoharie and package it in Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water bottles.

But National Grid is only 10 days into two-month project to connect its power grid to the plant, which requires installing a small substation and laying miles of line, according to National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella. The $25 million facility is in the middle of an isolated three-mile stretch of Watershed Road, between Murray Hill Road and County Route 116, about a mile east of the Canajoharie reservoir and about a half-mile southeast of the Rockwood State Forest.

Stella said the utility’s work should be complete by the end of March. Mraz said C.G. Roxane is hoping to begin production in March, which would be about two months behind the original schedule. Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery, whose village is selling water from wells that were dug by C.G. Roxane a mile away, said he’s hoping it will be operational by “the first of April, but that will depend on how everything jells.”

The facility has been using generators to power lights and tools during construction, but the need for electricity is becoming more critical, Mraz told supervisors.

“Now that they’ve gotten certain equipment, they’re trying to test it out with generators,” he said. “It’s certainly been an inconvenience and cost to the company.”

C.G. Roxane broke ground in July on the 170,000-square-foot plant but learned three months later the company, not National Grid, was required to obtain permission and easements for the lines and power poles from neighboring property owners – a process slowed when one neighbor initially refused, Mraz said. National Grid said the Public Service Commission tariff rules require new customers to secure the easements if nobody else will benefit from the electricity.

C.G. Roxane is responsible for cost of bringing power down the road to the site, Stella said. He referred questions about the cost to C.G. Roxane, whose sole spokesman, Vice President Page Beykpour, has not commented on the project since 2011 and did not return calls this week.

Stratford Supervisor Robert Johnson said National Grid’s position is anti-business and local lawmakers such as state Sen. Hugh T. Farley, R-Niskayuna, and Assemblyman Marc Butler, R-Newport, should “be getting after them.”

“It seems like they’re out doing their own thing … hindering progress,” he said. “It’s not really encouraging other companies to want to do business, especially in a tight economy that has to put a workforce back to work.”

C.G. Roxane has said it will initially hire 33 employees and could hire 12 more after constructing a 65,000-square-foot warehouse. Mraz said the hiring process is under way.

This week, the site was bustling with dozens of construction workers and electrical contractors working around the facility and parking lot, while National Grid crews installed another power pole a few hundred feet from the building. The utility workers, who were parked along the edge of curvy and unlined Watershed Road, frequently had to move their safety cones to allow tractor-trailers carrying heavy equipment and a drill rig to pass.

C.G. Roxane paid to have Old Sweet Road – a milelong street that existed on maps but was undeveloped – built to town road standards, with two wide, marked lanes and a 55 mph speed limit. It connects Route 29 with Watershed Road across from the plant’s truck entrance, which leads to a loading dock at the back of the facility.

The company still owns the road, but the town is expected to take over ownership and maintenance, which would include plowing. Town Supervisor Nancy MacVean told the Town Board on Monday the county asked the town to pass a resolution that would conceptually approve the takeover once the deed has been transferred, but no board members made a motion, saying that without the deed, there was no need to vote now.

“I have no interest in passing a resolution until everything is done,” Councilwoman Beth Schloicka said on Monday.

On Tuesday, a Canajoharie pickup truck with a snowplow was making repeated passes along the new road. Avery said the village is not maintaining the road for C.G. Roxane, but it needed to send a plow in order to get a tanker truck of water to the site, where he said crews were flushing out lines.

“Old State Road was such a muddy mess, with such deep holes. It’s not in very good shape,” he said.

Mraz said Wednesday if Old Sweet Road had been open, it would have been an “easier” option for trucks than Watershed Road, which is known as Old State Road in Ephratah, a mile west of the plant. He confirmed that the curvy, hilly Watershed Road “probably” posed a mild risk to truck drivers who delivered building materials, heavy equipment and machinery over the last six months.

C.G. Roxane initially planned to build a 245,000-square-foot plant in a less-remote location a mile west in Ephratah, on watershed land it would have purchased from Canajoharie. The site would have been closer to electrical infrastructure and not required vehicles to travel far on Old State and Watershed Road. But because of wetlands, the site could only accommodate a building half that size.

The company still will use water from wells dug a mile away on a Canajoharie watershed, pumping it through pipes that C.G. Roxane already has installed along Watershed Road, Mraz said. Canajoharie, whose water has won statewide accolades for its quality and taste, will receive a royalty, but Avery said the village isn’t expecting a lot of revenue in its first year.

The company also dug test wells on watershed property owned by the city of Johnstown, but C.G. Roxane and the city do not have a water-use agreement.

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