County legislators add $250,000 for Great Lakes Cheese site studies

Cattaraugus County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer (left) congratulates Olean Legislator Frank Higgins as he presents a declaration of the Olean Public Library’s 100th anniversary Wednesday.

LITTLE VALLEY — Cattaraugus County lawmakers added $250,000 in funding Wednesday for studies to help determine if a site near Franklinville is suitable for a $500 million Great Lakes Cheese Co. plant.

Last month, the county legislature gave the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency $150,000 for soil and other site studies including an archaeological survey that are underway.

Those funds are nearly expended and the studies — geotechnical, traffic control, environmental and archaeological — have not yet been concluded.

The total of $400,000, which came from the county’s fund balance or surplus, should cover the cost of additional studies.

On Tuesday, the IDA board of directors agreed to set a public hearing on a proposed $153 million tax benefits package for the Great Lakes Cheese Co. plant along Route 16 in the towns of Franklinville and Farmersville.

The company plans to close the aging plant in Cuba, where there are 230 employees, and build a new plant, possibly at the Cattaraugus County site 16 miles away. The new plant will add another 200 or more jobs and double production as well as double milk purchases to about 4 million gallons a day.

Great Lakes Cheese officials prefer to build a new plant in the region where current employees could continue in their jobs. Another New York site in the mix is in Genesee County.

“Cattaraugus County has an enormous opportunity in front of it,” said Majority Leader Michael Brisky, R-Franklinville. He thanked fellow legislators for the additional allocation to assist in showing the company the site is shovel-ready.

Great Lakes Cheese wants to begin construction before the end of the year to try to make up for two years lost looking for a site in Allegany County, which in the end did not work out.

The plant will be 486,000 square feet, with a separate 400-foot by 400-foot water treatment plant.

County lawmakers were also unanimous in their support of a resolution asking the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission to consider a plan that would maintain the 23rd Congressional District’s rural Southern Tier counties.

All 16 other county legislators joined Vice Chairman Andrew Burr, R-Gowanda, as co-sponsors.

The resolution calls citizen participation important to the redistricting process “to ensure that no region of the state, special interest or political party gains an unfair advantage.”

While New York will lose a congressional seat because of the 2020 census, it’s unclear where the seat will be eliminated. Because Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, has announced he will not seek re-election, the 11 counties in the 23rd Congressional District could be ripe for being broken up and the pieces added to surrounding districts.

“The bottom line,” Burr said afterward, “is we’d like to stay a rural district.”

Cattaraugus County Republicans, he said, don’t want to see any one population center overwhelm the rest of the district, which could happen if parts of the district were absorbed by existing districts to the north that include Buffalo and Rochester.

“We’d like to see it similar to the way it is now,” Burr explained — a Southern Tier district.

IN OTHER ACTION, legislators:

• Approved $30,000 for architectural and engineering services for the site layout of the Allegany Highway/Refuse Facility on Seventh Street.

• Authorized $4,040 for architectural and engineering services for renovations to the County Legislature Chamber. CPL: Architecture-Engineering-Planning, Buffalo will perform the services.

• Agreed to upgrade the county’s online Civil Service application system for $3,000.

• Voted to increase the stipend of Deputy Administrator Kelly Reed who is working increased hours while temporarily performing the duties of nursing homes director by $577 bi-weekly until Dec. 31, 2021.

• Voted to give the Cattaraugus County Agricultural Society $10,000 to help pay for additional cleaning and equipment at the County Fairgrounds due to COVID-19.

• Authorized the Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism to submit a consolidated funding application to the Regional Economic Development Council for various projects.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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