Slowly but surely, county officials are getting Beech-Nut site ready for re-use
CANAJOHARIE — This village is like a number of Mohawk Valley Rust Belt communities along Interstate 90 where the industrial base left years ago with nothing to replace it.
And Canajoharie has an additional challenge: sky high water and sewer rates, thanks to the debt incurred to service what had been the village’s economic mainstay.
While the village was updating their water-sewer infrastructure, the Beech-Nut baby food plant that had been here since 1905 was preparing to leave.
By 2011, Beech-Nut was at a new plant 22 miles away in the town of Florida, which is also in Montgomery County.
Now, village leaders, Montgomery County officials and economic developers are hoping the abundant water that is available could be a drawing card to bring in a manufacturer, perhaps another food processing facility, on the 27-acre site that has sat empty for nearly a decade.
“A heavy water user would be nice,” Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said Tuesday during a brief media tour of the plant for reporters and for U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, whose 19th Congressional District includes Canajoharie.
Even though officials on Monday had no revelations of tenants or firm plans for the complex, they wanted to make it clear that they are making steady progress in preparing the site for a new user. They recently completed asbestos and mold removal on the plant’s west side, which faces the village’s small, quaint downtown area.
And the east side of Canajoharie Creek, which divides the site, has already been cleared and is just about shovel ready.
While asbestos removal and land clearing over 10 years may seem like a snail’s pace for progress, Ossenfort and others explained the work is in part regulated by the flow of state or federal money required to remediate the hazards and knock down the old buildings.
The most recent work was funded by $6 million in state Restore NY funds. County officials are constantly on the lookout for new funding streams to pay for the work.
Ossenfort said they’ve already heard from developers who would like to put a truck stop on the property’s east side, but they’ve said “no” since that wouldn’t generate enough jobs. Light manufacturing or a food plant would work on the east side, he said, and they’d like to keep the building's original façade on the west side intact to house smaller businesses or even shops. They would also like to build a clear connection with the Mohawk River-Erie Canal, which is a stone’s throw away.
Despite the slow movement, the success of the Florida Business Park suggests that the region can still attract employers.
In addition to Beech-Nut, that 800-acre park has Dollar General, and Target warehouses. And most recently, online retailer Amazon has put in a “last mile” center where items are prepared for local delivery. They are currently hiring, said county economic development Director Ken Rose.
Part of that park’s success is its size, noted Canajoharie Mayor Jeff Baker. It was also one of the reasons Beech-Nut moved as there was not space to expand in the village. “We’re landlocked,” he said.
Delgado said he was encouraged by what he was seeing and pledged to help push for any federal money that might be available for the site preparation work. “We can lend our name to support for grant funding,” he said.
Canajoharie is at the northwestern corner of the first-term Democrat’s 19th Congressional District. Ossenfort and Baker, who wore a “Don’t Tread on Me” baseball cap, are both Republicans.
That didn’t seem to matter as they were happy to see Delgado who, equipped with a flashlight, gamely toured the darkened, empty hull of the old factory.
“I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Baker said of Delgado.