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EPA Authorizes Montgomery County To Remove Asbestos From Former Beech-Nut Facility

Lucas Willard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Montgomery County have entered a new agreement to remove asbestos contamination from the site of the former Beech-Nut baby food factory in Canajoharie. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports...

The dilapidated Beech-Nut factory is a one-million square-foot eyesore in the Mohawk Valley village of Canajoharie. But a new voluntary agreement between Montgomery County and the EPA allows for the removal of contaminated debris from the site which could lead to redevelopment.

The county plans to remove 2,500 tons of material currently in piles, a roll-off container, and partial exterior walls.

EPA, which first assessed the property in 2015, took steps to stabilize the contamination that was left by the site’s previous owners.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort is ready to get to work on the project.

“More important than an economic issue, this is a public safety issue. So we can get these piles taken care of and then we can move onto demolition and remediation of the rest of the site,” said Ossenfort.

EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez said in a statement: “Even though the county is not legally responsible for cleaning up this site, we are so pleased that we found a willing partner to be part of the solution.”

Lopez said the approach “reinforces” EPA’s efforts to “streamline the Superfund process.”

The unsightly debris has been sitting on the property for years. In 2013, after Beech-Nut vacated the factory, the site was sold to TD Development. The factory was then reportedly sold to a company partner. Since, more than a million dollars in taxes have gone unpaid.

EPA pushed for B & B Recycling, LLC and Beech-Nut to clean up the site. Beech-Nut refused, saying the contamination issues were created after it sold the property.

EPA says it is “evaluating its enforcement options” related to the two companies.

Recently, Montgomery County was able to finalize the foreclosure process and claim ownership of the campus that takes up about a third of downtown Canajoharie, including the waste piles.

Ossenfort says the cleanup authorized this week is the first step in a long process.

“And to be able to get this done shows that, you know what, we’re heading in the right direction. There’s a lot more positive things to come. And hopefully, in the matter of, hopefully, just a few short years, we can really do something special on that site,” said Ossenfort.

The community has been brainstorming ideas for the site for some time.  In the summer of 2016, local officials were joined by a Washington, D.C.-based architectural organization for a tour of the structure. Much of the facility remains intact, though there are issues that range from broken or stolen fixtures to black mold.

While on the tour, Bill Roehr, Senior Planner with the Montgomery County Business Development Center, did not rule out any options for the future of the factory.

“If we can get money to demolish it, if we can get money to rehab it, if we can get investors, literally, whatever the most pragmatic way is. If we don’t do this, the stakes are, I should say, the consequences are incredibly serious. Because this dominates the downtown, dominates the whole village.”

Montgomery County has secured funding to redevelop the site, including a half million dollar Restore NY grant. 

As the first steps toward cleanup are put into motion, Ossenfort is excited about the level of cooperation with those involved: the village, town, county, state and federal governments.

“Nowadays how often do you see all those entities – Democrats, Republicans, different layers of government – all working together with a common goal? That to me is what is so exciting,” said Ossenfort. “A project this big is going to have to be done through teamwork and we’re seeing a level of cooperation that just warms my heart and gives me a lot of hope for the future.”

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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