Montgomery County plans to foreclose on ex-Beech-Nut site

Beech-Nut refused an EPA order to clean up asbestos at its old site, saying its 2013 sale absolved it of responsibility. (Leader-Herald file photo)

FONDA — Montgomery County intends to go forward with its plan to foreclose on the former Beech-Nut baby food plant in Canajoharie and begin a cleanup of the debris there, amid a dispute between the former owners of the site and the federal government.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued an administrative order April 13 requiring Beech-Nut Nutrition Company and B & B Recycling, LLC to clean up asbestos at the 29-acre site.

Beech-Nut has said it shouldn’t be held responsible for the asbestos cleanup because it sold the property in 2013, and has asked that the order be withdrawn.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said the EPA order was “not unexpected” by himself and county officials.

“I still am wholly optimistic that we are moving forward with our game plan. At some point, the EPA and Beech-Nut and even B & B would be involved in this as far as a legal process, but now that we know the response from Beech-Nut, the county can act accordingly with our negotiation with the EPA and we will do so over the next couple of days,” he said.

The property currently owes about $1.7 million in unpaid county, village and school taxes. Montgomery County could have foreclosed on the property more than a year ago, but has chosen not to do so due to the cost of the asbestos cleanup.

“We’ve been holding off because, right now, the EPA has a lein on the property of

$4 million. That is primarily due to the debris piles [containing asbestos] that are sitting there. Obviously the lien itself from the EPA is something that has to be addressed before we can proceed with any type of taking possession of the property,” Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose said.

Ossenfort has made remediation of the

former Beech-Nut site one of the priorities of his administration, dubbing it “Project 29” because of its proximity to Exit 29 on the New York state Thruway.

The Exit 29 Project has received a $1 million New York state grant, and it may receive an additional $2 million to $3 million in grants if the county is successful in its applications for additional funding.

Ossenfort said it remains to be seen to what extent the EPA will be able to hold the former owners of the property liable for the cleanup costs, but he doesn’t believe that will slow down the county’s timetable for using state grant funding to begin the cleanup as soon as possible.

“I’ve always held the position, and obviously details will be worked out with the EPA, but I feel that with the grants that we have received, and with some of the funds coming in the future, we have an obligation and it is our responsibility to move this project forward and I fully intend on doing that,” Ossenfort said.

“My concern, first and foremost, is that we do the demolition and remediation and, at this point, we’ve been able to get state funds to do so,” he said.

“My biggest concern is making sure there is zero liability for the county related to the agency for the site and that we have the funds to do the cleanup. Whether or not EPA is looking to recoup funds from these various entities that are in the chain of the [property] title, and where that money goes, that’s something that is less in our control. So, I’m focusing on what we can control, which is making sure we get those state dollars, we get the foreclosure done, we get site control and start moving the process forward.”

Ossenfort said he hopes Montgomery County can foreclose on the site sometime in June.

By Chad Fleck

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