Demolition of the dilapidated former Beech-Nut factory in Canajoharie could resume this summer with support from a $500,000 state grant announced this week, Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said Friday.
The grant under the Restore NY Community Initiative will cover part of the cost of demolishing up to five remaining buildings on the property's eastern end, he said. That bill could run up to $2 million, and would not include the main plant.
Visible from the state Thruway, the 27-acre plant dates back to 1905 and dominates the historic village's small downtown. The plant closed six years ago when Beech-Nut moved to a site near Amsterdam. It was sold in 2013 to Ohio developer Todd Clifford, who promised to redevelop it but instead stripped the sprawling complex of its valuable scrap metal.
"I expect that the county will be foreclosing on this property. It is just a matter of when," Ossenfort said. The ownership of the property is still in dispute, with Clifford claiming he sold it in 2014 in a move described by local officials as a sham sale. In December, a Brooklyn-based developer claimed to control the property, but offered no proof.
This spring, the EPA reported that Clifford's crews left behind debris tainted with asbestos, a known human carcinogen. Removal is expensive, and local officials are estimating it could cost up to $10 million to finish demolishing and cleaning the property for potential development. That is much more than the county or the village can afford on their own.
"This state grant is very encouraging. It shows the state does have an interest in us," said Canajoharie Mayor Francis Avery, who has worked for years to deal with the massive eyesore in the midst of his downtown. Roof drains are leaking, letting water into the building, which is being infested with mold.
The mayor said another would-be owner has stepped forward recently, but again, offered no proof of actually owning it. "It is a shell game. As far as we are concerned, Mr. Clifford is the owner," said Avery.
Last summer, Howard Zemsky, president and CEO of Empire State Development and commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, toured the plant. Afterward, he said the entire site will likely have to be demolished.
When asked at the time whether the state could seek to recover any funds it might expend on addressing Beech-Nut, Zemsky said the state was examining "potential environmental liability and chain of title." The Empire State Development press office could not immediately update Zemsky's statement on Friday.