May 11, 2007

Biodiesel plant coming to Polkville


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency, stands on the site of a new biodiesel plant construction project during a groundbreaking ceremony this morning off Route 11 near Polkville. 

Staff Reporter

POLKVILLE — An oilseed crushing and biodiesel fuel production facility is coming to town now that $4 million in state financing has been secured, officials announced at a news conference in front of 80 people at the plant’s site this morning.
The $14 million facility will be called the New York State Center for Liquid Biofuels and built on a site just west of CNY PowerSports on Route 11. The operation will be a collaboration between Morrisville State College and Empire AgriFuel LLC, a private company which was formed for the project.
The project has been in the works for the last year, but the state financing, which recently was approved by the Empire State Development Corp. and is coming through the SUNY Research Foundation, is making the project a sure bet.
The facility, which will be the first oilseed crushing and biofuel processing plant in the state, is intended to further advance upstate New York as a leader in renewable energy and increase market demand for state soybean and canola growers.
The crushing plant, which will be about 30,000 square feet, initially will be capable of handling up to 200 tons a day, or approximately 2.4 million bushels of soy and/or canola per year.
That oil will be used to produce 5 million gallons of biodiesel fuel annually, in a second building that will be about 20,000 square feet. The buildings are being designed for future expansion, including the addition of more bean crushing and biodiesel production capability.
Mason Somerville, a professor at Morrisville College and president of Empire AgriFuel, said a 3,000-square-foot office and lab building also will be built.
The center will conduct research in the use of biofuels and collaborate with the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway to establish a small research center in Binghamton to develop applications for biofuels in the transportation sector, particularly automotives.
Somerville said the railroad was the driving force behind the decision to put the research center there.
Somerville said Cortland’s location near Binghamton, proximity to soybean farmers and railroad access all likely contributed in state funding for the project.
Revenues for Empire AgriFuel, which are supposed to be $25 million to $30 million in the first year, will come from the sale of biodiesel fuel to New York state agencies and other retail outlets; the sale of meal, a crushing byproduct, to local farmers and feed mills in the Northeast; and the sale of soap stock and glycerin, other biodiesel plant by-products.
The approximately $10 million in funding that is not covered by the state will come from a combination of state loans and private investors. Somerville is one of the investors, while the Morrisville College Foundation is another.
Somerville declined to list all of the investors, say how many there are or say how much each one is investing.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency, said the project’s proposed site is in an Empire Zone, making it eligible for tax breaks and other financial benefits.
The Industrial Development Agency is also going to consider awarding the project a payment in lieu of taxes agreement. That will be discussed at its meeting Monday, she said.
The project’s direct and indirect impact to the local economy will be more than $47 million, according to estimates by Morrisville College. Twenty engineering jobs will be created within one year at the plant, while about 130 agriculture-related jobs are expected to be created on new spinoff businesses surrounding the plant and on local farms in the region.
The project also is expected to increase the production of oil-based feed stocks on New York farms and could increase the value of soybeans by 30 cents per bushel. The current price per soybean bushel is $7.50, according to Janice Degni, field crop specialist for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County.
Empire AgriFuel LLC has a purchase offer with Dave Law, owner of CNY PowerSports, and one with Bob Frazie, owner of Cazenovia Equipment Co. Inc., for a total of 11 acres of land. Somerville declined to reveal the amounts of the purchase offers.
Somerville said the Polkville site was chosen over a handful of other county sites, including the former Homer Oil plant in Homer, for a variety of reasons. Those include the Polkville site’s relatively flat land, its proximity to Interstate 81 and its location in an Empire Zone and industrial zone.
“It’s not in a residential community,” he said. “We have industrial neighbors so we in fact may even have some partnership interests in.”
Once the project gets the proper town, county and state permits and approval, construction on the facility will begin.
Somerville said he anticipates the plant will open in 12 to 14 months.

Plant should ease transportation costs for farmers

Local farmers say the new plant may encourage them to grow more soybeans, but more than anything it will provide them with a cheaper source of meal for their cows.
Stuart Young, an East Homer farmer who produces about 3,000 bushels of soybeans once every few years, said he now buys soybean meal for his cows from Canada and the Midwest.
It costs about $15 a ton to bring soybean here, bringing the total cost of a ton from $230 to $245, Young said. He said he buys between 400 and 500 tons a year.
According to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, New York farmers harvested 9 million bushels of soybeans in 2006, and the rate of soybean production in the state has increased by about 20 percent per year since 2000.
Cortland County farmers harvested 42,100 bushels of soybeans in 2006, almost three times the amount they harvested in 2002.
Canola production is minimal in New York state, even though the climate allows for it, while it is a big industry all over Canada, including in Ontario, and states including North Dakota and Montana.
Young said there are only a few local farmers who produce soybeans regularly, including Ralph Parks in Cincinnatus, John Diesher in Cortlandville and Young’s cousin Martin Young in Cuyler.
He said more farmers may want to get into soybean producing as a result of the new plant, but for the time being most will benefit from the meal as they are primarily dairy farmers.
—Christine Laubenstein


Judge splits verdict in Purr Fect trial

Purr Fect Trial

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Purr Fect World board member Eugena Cute appears at Cortland City Court Thursday for the verdict in the corporation’s nonjury trial on charges of failing to properly care for nearly 300 cats.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A local animal shelter received a split verdict Thursday when it was found guilty of more than half the neglect charges it faced in City Court. The decision comes eight months after officials took nearly 300 cats from property owned by the shelter on Wheeler Avenue.
City Judge Thomas Meldrim delivered the decision in the nonjury trial, finding Purr Fect World guilty of 28 counts of failure to provide proper food and drink to a harbored animal, an unclassified misdemeanor under the state Agriculture and Markets Law. Meldrim acquitted Purr Fect World of 21 counts of the same charge.
Board member Eugenia Cute, 54, of Homer, and the corporation’s attorney, James Stevens, of Sugarman Law Firm in Syracuse, were present for the verdict. Purr Fect World founder Lisa Alderman, 43, of 503 Third St., Liverpool, was not present. She also did not appear in court last week for either day of the two-day trial.
Stevens said after the proceeding that he had no comment.
Purr Fect World was charged with 49 counts of the misdemeanor after city police and fire officials, along with the Cortland County SPCA, raided the corporation’s house and spay-and-neuter clinic at 5 and 7 Wheeler Ave. Nearly 300 cats were found on the property the day of the raid, which officials conducted after neighbors complained of feces and urine smells coming from the property.
The 28 counts Purr Fect World was convicted of stemmed from cats that had to be euthanized after the SPCA confiscated them. Based on testimony from veterinarians, and a video of the conditions in the house that was submitted as evidence but not shown at trial, along with other evidence, Meldrim found Purr Fect World had neglected those cats.
The 21 charges of which the company was acquitted related to the dead cats found in a freezer on the property. The judge ruled Purr Fect World was not guilty of neglecting the cats that were found dead.
During the last day of the trial on May 3, Stevens argued that the prosecution could not prove the environment of the two buildings harmed any of the cats. He said there was no evidence of how the cats found in the freezer died, and that there was no proof that the cats that were euthanized were harmed by the environment Purr Fect World created.


Dryden to decide on Cayuga Press loan

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — The Town Board discussed, but took no action, on resolving how a Housing and Urban Development loan to Cayuga Press would be paid off. The low-interest loan was given in 2001.
Cayuga Press relocated from Hanshaw Road in Dryden to south Main Street in Cortland in 2006. Some offices are still maintained at the Hanshaw Road location, said Dryden resident and Cayuga Press President Peter Schug. He and his lawyer, Ithaca attorney Jonathan Orkin, argued that the jobs created still exist. The two sites are about 18 miles apart.
Schug said once the loan is paid off the town would still have the money to loan out.
The town granted the company a $385,000 loan at a 15-year repayment term. The company owes about $250,000.
Orkin said while the town could call in the loan, what the town does is discretionary. He said Schug came to the board for resolution when he knew he was moving the business, but the town has dragged out a decision. He said the downfall of calling the loan is that it could affect Dryden residents.
Councilman David Makar asked if he’s suggesting people would be fired or laid off if the town calls the loan due.
Orkin said it would cause a hardship and would be punitive.

County considers options to increase landfill capacity

Staff Reporter

The county has three or four years until its current landfill runs out of space, the Highway Committee was told Tuesday, but the time to start looking at expanding its capacity, at an estimated cost of $1 million per additional acre, is now.
The committee voted to direct County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers to seek an engineering design for the opening of one or two new cells at the landfill.
Chambers said he hoped to have a proposal for engineering services before the committee by its June meeting.
“It’s time to start the design of this so we don’t have a gap in service and have to send our materials outside the county,” Chambers said, noting that the expansion is part of the county’s master plan for the landfill.
Chambers suggested that the county look at constructing both cells at once because each cell would likely last approximately 10 years, and the county would ultimately likely be paying for the project with a 20-year bond.
The two cells combined would cover approximately 15 to 16 acres, Chambers told the committee, putting the total price for both cells at about $15 million.


City commitment to drainage study uncertain

Staff Reporter

A joint venture between the county and the city to try to reduce flooding along Otter Creek received preliminary support from the Legislature’s Agriculture/Planning Committee Thursday, but the city’s interest in the project is still uncertain.
The committee voted unanimously in favor of paying half the cost of a $20,000 study to look at the potential cost and benefit of building a detention pond in Cortlandville intended to reduce flooding in the city.
The resolution, which will go before the full Legislature May 24, was contingent on the city agreeing to pick up the other half of the bill, but city officials said Thursday that, while they are open to discussions, they had not yet committed to the project.
“We haven’t committed to (the project) yet because we’re also looking at some other things that may circumvent that,” Mayor Tom Gallagher said, adding that the city is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on permits for the city to clean up the creek beds of Dry and Otter creeks.
The study by C&S Engineers would represent only a fraction of the cost of constructing a detention pond — a construction cost estimate would be included in the study — but moving forward with the study could be part of a solution to flooding problems in the city, said Carol Tytler (D-3rd Ward), who chairs a planning subcommittee on flooding.
“We all agreed that in order to move forward with a project of this scale, it’s going to need to have a significant impact though,” Tytler said of conversations with city officials. “It couldn’t just be a solution for a one- or two-year storm, it would need to be able to mitigate a 25-year storm for us to want to take a project like this on.”
Should the study find a municipal detention pond north of Country Inn & Suites would significantly reduce flooding in the city, the city and the county would then have to consider splitting the cost, which has not yet been determined, Tytler said.