Great Lakes Cheese Co. officials tours possible plant site

A drilling rig rises out of a cornfield off Route 16 on Tuesday near the Franklinville-Farmersville town line where Great Lakes Cheese Co., is considering building a $505 million plant.

FRANKLINVILLE — A Great Lakes Cheese official and company engineers on Tuesday toured the Cattaraugus County site proposed for a new $505 million cheese plant.

A drilling rig began collecting soil boring samples across a 200-acre site where some of the corn is nearly 6 feet tall.

Discussions continued with Franklinville officials, National Grid and state Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio.

The site along Route 16 straddles the Franklinville-Farmersville town line.

The cost of the plant and preparing the site is about $255 million, while about $215 million worth of equipment would go into the plant.

Owner Jason Schwab of Freedom called Great Lakes Cheese to offer the land six weeks ago after efforts to acquire a similar site along Interstate 86 in the Allegany County town of Belvidere fell through.

On Tuesday, Schwab drove Matt Wilkinson, the Great Lakes Cheese official involved in siting the new plant, and company engineers around the site in side-by-side vehicles. Others, including Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency executive director Corey Wiktor, accompanied them on the tour.

The Cattaraugus County Legislature made $150,000 available at its last meeting in June and two weeks ago the IDA board of directors contracted for soil and other studies at the site in cooperation with Great Lakes to demonstrate it is a shovel-ready site.

After more than a year of looking at Allegany County sites Great Lakes Cheese Co., initially settled on the Belvidere site. The owner balked at the sale and the Allegany County IDA voted to proceed with eminent domain. That delay plus an extended timeline to bring utilities to the site proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Still, Great Lakes valued its 230 employees at its cheese plant in Cuba, and reviewed other sites on the Allegany County list. The company also wanted to remain in the area because of the abundant supply of milk in the region.

Schwab’s 200-acre plus site is about 16 miles from the Cuba cheese plant.

Great Lakes is also being courted by Genesee County, which has proposed a site in the town of LeRoy. That is about 65 miles from the Cuba plant.

Wiktor said analysis of the soil borings will be ready in about two weeks. In the meantime, hydrology and archaeological studies will be getting underway.

Great Lakes wants to begin construction this fall, Wiktor said. The Cattaraugus County Legislature and IDA are doing everything they can to demonstrate the Franklinville-Farmersville site is a good site and is shovel-ready.

“It’s a good day when we are still in the batter’s box,” Wiktor said. “Things are moving in a very positive direction.”

After the meeting at the site, Wiktor talked with Franklinville Mayor Harvey Soulvie and Public Works Superintendent Cary Hatch. The village would provide water and sewer to the site. Later, Wiktor met with officials from National Grid, which would provide electricity to the site.

“We are still moving in the right direction,” Wiktor said. “We are still very actively engaged in determining the shovel readiness of that site.”

Company officials are still hopeful, Wiktor said. “They want to break ground in late October. The next 30-45 days will be critical.”

Dual studies of the sites are ongoing, Wiktor indicated. “I’d like to think we put our money where our mouth is,” he said of the six-figure investment county lawmakers authorized.

“We are spending money to help them make their decision,” he said. “I’d like to think it gives us a leg up by showing a commitment and a willingness to investigate to see if this is a good site.”

Wiktor said the county legislature and IDA’s concern is the 230 employees now at the Cuba plant and the 200 additional jobs Great Lakes Cheese says come with the new plant. There’s also the farmers in the region who sell milk to the company to think about.

“Keeping the workforce in the region is paramount,” Wiktor said. “If we can help them maintain their homes, their kids in school and their lifestyle, we will. We want to maintain their legacy and their work.”

The alternatives of the new cheese plant being built in LeRoy or out of state are of no benefit to this region, he noted.

The investment to help bring Great Lakes Cheese Co. to the Cattaraugus County site “shows the county leadership and county legislators are willing to do whatever they can to keep them in the region,” Wiktor said.

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

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