Large piles of asbestos-tainted debris outside the partially demolished former Beech Nut plant in Montgomery County will be removed under an agreement between the county and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Under the agreement, the county will dispose of about 2,500 tons of toxic debris and partially demolished plant walls that contain cancer-causing asbestos. Located around the 27-acre plant in the village of Canajoharie, the piles have been in the open since the spring of 2015, left behind by workers for a would-be developer from Ohio who instead stripped the building of valuable metal and left. This spring, EPA had the piles sprayed with a sealant to reduce the risk of asbestos being carried into the air. Breathing in asbestos can cause health problems, including cancer. The village's small downtown is dominated by the crumbling factory, which is visible to thousands of passing motorists on the state Thruway. Removal of the debris could start within three weeks, with renewed demolition of the sprawling, decaying plant to start next spring, said County Executive Mattew Ossenfort, who signed the EPA agreement Wednesday. Currently, the county has $800,000 to support the start of that work, with $300,000 of that coming from a grant from National Grid and the remaining $500,000 from a state RestoreNY grant. Estimates of the cleanup and eventual demolition of the plant have been $6 million or more. Further grants will be sought by the village and county to support the project, said Andrew Santillo, a spokesman for Ossenfort. Montgomery County, which this summer foreclosed on the property over more than $2 million in unpaid property taxes, agreed to spearhead the cleanup effort after Beech Nut and a demolition company hired by Ohio developer Todd Clifford refused an EPA demand to be responsible for it. "Even though the county is not legally responsible for cleaning up the site, we are so pleased that we found a willing partner to be part of the solution," said Pete Lopez, the regional EPA administrator. EPA will continue "evaluating its enforcement options related to Beech Nut Nutrition Corp. and B&B Recycling," according to Lopez's statement. EPA claimed that Beech-Nut knew of the asbestos danger in 2012 before selling the plant and property the following year to Clifford for $200,000. The EPA cleanup order also named B & B Recycling LLC, of Broken Arrow, Okla., which Clifford hired to take down the buildings. Calls to Beech Nut for comment were not returned. Currently, the county is considering a plan to rebuild part of the plant for use as combined county offices. That plan depends on voters from the village of Canajoharie agreeing to merge with the town. This summer, EPA agreed to ensure the county would not be stuck with the environmental liability for the cleanup. Under that agreement, should the county eventually sell a cleaned-up site for future development, half of the proceeds will go to the EPA for its expenses in investigating the plant and stabilizing outdoor debris piles for asbestos. Under the administration of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the state provided up to $106.5 million in taxpayer-funded incentives for Beech Nut to move to its new $124 million facility in 2010. That state funding contained no requirements for the disposal of the Canajoharie factory.