County agrees to take plant

FONDA — The Montgomery County Legislature voted to foreclose on the former Beech-Nut baby food manufacturing plant Tuesday night during a special meeting, allowing the county to obtain site control of the 29-acre location and begin cleaning it up.

Roy Dimond, chairman of the Montgomery County Legislature, said it was in 2014 that Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose first asked the county legislature to approve $35,000 to do a phase one study of the site to estimate the potential costs of cleaning it up, estimated at the time to be about $6 million.

“It’s been a long process to get to this bench mark and I’m really excited that we’re there. This is not only a good thing for Canajoharie, but also the county as a whole,” Dimond said.

The Beech-Nut baby food plant has been effectively abandoned since Beech-Nut’s parent company Hero AG, based in Switzerland, sold the 851,000 square foot plant in 2013 for $200,000 to Ohio-based company called TD Development LLC, owned by Todd Clifford.

Since then, ownership of the property has changed hands several times and a partial demolition of the eastern side of the property was started but then stopped, leaving large piles of debris. The site currently owes about $1.7 million in unpaid county, village and school taxes.

The EPA, on April 13, issued an order requiring two of the last owners of the plant, Beech-Nut Nutrition Company and B & B Recycling, LLC, to clean up millions of dollars worth of asbestos at the location. So far, the former owners have disputed responsibility for the clean up.

Before foreclosing on the property Tuesday night, the legislature approved a memorandum of understanding between the county and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that states the EPA will drop $4 million in liens against the property, incurred due to hazardous waste located at the site, in exchange for receiving 50 percent of the ultimate sale price of the property.

The estimated cost of the future cleanup of the site, and who will ultimately be responsible for paying for it, were unclear Tuesday night.

County Attorney Meghan Manion told the county legislature that the county’s agreement with the EPA will hold the county harmless for any past soil contamination, such as from oil spills, discovered at the site. Manion said the EPA may pay for some of the asbestos cleanup at the site.

EPA Regional Public Information Officer Elias Rodriguez in an email statement today said the memorandum of agreement has not yet been agreed to by all parties. “The EPA and the County have been working together to clean up the Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. site and return the property to productive use. The EPA and the County have reached an agreement that would aid the county in its foreclosure action and further the process of cleaning up and redeveloping the site. Since the agreement has not been signed by all parties, the specific terms are not available,” Rodriguez stated in an email Wednesday. “However, the agreement would release the property from EPA’s Superfund cost-recovery liens in return for a 50 percent share in proceeds of a future sale. Upon signature of the agreement, EPA and the County will focus on addressing EPA’s removal action for the site. The priority for EPA remains addressing threats to human health and the environment posed by conditions at the site.”

Rodriguez did not respond directly to questions regarding the status of the EPA’s cleanup order to Beech-Nut and B & B Recycling, LLC.

“The EPA is committed to pursuing appropriate enforcement at the site. Due to the pending nature of EPA’s enforcement efforts, EPA cannot comment at this time,” he stated in an email.

Cleanup of the former Beech-Nut plant has been labeled a priority by County Executive Matt Ossenfort, dubbing it the “Exit 29” project due to its proximity to New York state Thruway Exit 29. Montgomery County officials have proposed converting the western end of the complex into a joint municipal center/court house.

Montgomery County Economic Development Director Ken Rose said the Beech-Nut project has received a $500,000 Restore New York grant and a $300,000 National Grid grant.

Ossenfort said Montgomery County had to take action to foreclose on the Beech-Nut site in order to obtain site control and start the cleanup process. He said the alternative was allowing the site to deteriorate further

“Right now we have just a small piece of the funding that’s going to be necessary to do what we’d like to do on that site. This is going to be a process and project that we are going to work on for years to come,” Ossenfort said. “We’re hopeful that some other grants that we have and will apply for will be successful. We’ve limited the amount of local taxpayer funds that have gone into this site, and we’re going to try to continue to do that and offset it with state funds.”

Village of Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery said the county’s foreclosure of the plant has left him optimistic about the location for the first time in a long time.

“Now we have a direction, we know where we’re going and we aren’t dependent on Todd Clifford, if you will, the former owner who made a mess of it all. We have some direction. Now we can work with the county and begin to make things happen,” he said.

“This is virtually our downtown, 29 acres. It’s the heart of the village. We now have an opportunity to redevelop it, to tear some of it down, as in the wharehousing and begin fresh. We fully realize we only have one opportunity to get it right and we intend to avail ourselves of that opportunity.”

By Patricia Older

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