By Dan Hust
LIBERTY Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis said last week that the long-awaited red meat processing facility will break ground in Liberty in the spring.
But will it really?
The day before Rouis’ mention of the matter in his State of the County speech, Sullivan County Farm Network co-founder Cindy Gieger asked about its status at the regular Industrial Development Agency (IDA) board meeting.
“What’s been holding it up?” she queried. “... Everybody is really anxious to get some answers.”
“We’re waiting for the snow to melt so we can get an aerial topographic survey which can assist us in stormwater design,” IDA attorney Walter Garigliano replied.
Stormwater design is crucial for two reasons, he said: the steep layout of the land, and the Village of Liberty Planning Board’s insistence that a water runoff issue with the access road, Willow Lane, be addressed.
“It’s an incredibly unusable piece of land,” Garigliano noted though even with discarded 55-gallon drums and “huge” drainage issues, he pointed out that it’s “absolutely perfect” for a slaughterhouse due to zoning hurdles with such businesses in most other areas of the county.
Still, “our preliminary estimates are the site grading will cost more than the building,” Garigliano said of the 5,250-square-foot structure.
The $1.7 million tab, however, will primarily be picked up by federal and state grants.
Gieger suggested other sites be considered, like the county airport, but IDA Board Chairman Elwin Wood warned the resulting delays could be substantial.
“If we start looking at other sites ... we’re putting another 5-10 years on this,” he said.
“You can understand the frustration,” Gieger told the board of farmers’ impatience, especially those who are currently shipping their meat to faraway destinations.
“Believe me, you don’t understand the frustration,” Garigliano replied of what has been a lengthy, cumbersome design process. “There is nothing we’re doing here that could be done any differently to make this happen quicker.”
While the project has existed in some form for the past decade, Wood said the IDA didn’t gain oversight until two and a half years ago.
Then $800,000 in necessary federal funding was uncertain (which finally arrived last September), and now, according to IDA CEO Allan Scott, the upcoming village elections have infused politics into the situation.
Garigliano defended the village’s right to put conditions on the project, including the runoff remediation on Willow Lane, but since that remains in the hands of the planning board and the land is owned by the village he could not give Gieger a firm groundbreaking date.
“We’re not going to get the approval to build it until we solve this problem,” he said.