Agency yanks $500k for new warehouse

GHENT–The state Office of Community Renewal has denied $516,000 previously allocated to fund construction of a new warehouse facility by Ginsberg’s Foods. The state agency said the project, which has been coordinated through the Columbia Economic Development Corporation, had not complied with federal rules, which prohibit the transfer of property or beginning construction before final approval of the project.

The funds amount to less than 5% of the total estimated cost of the $13-million first phase of the warehouse project, and it was not clear whether the decision would affect the company’s decision to proceed. No one was available at Ginsberg’s Wednesday to respond to questions about the decision. The company, headquartered in Claverack, is a regional wholesale food distributor.

Michael Tucker, the interim president of the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) said Wednesday that CEDC is a consultant to the project and the county is the applicant for the federal funds. He said he hoped to meet with county officials and officials of the Office of Community Renewal soon to discuss the matter. He said he was not aware of any appeals process that might lead to restoration of the funding but that would be a matter for discussion.

The decision was based on a form submitted late last year by Pat Grattan who, at that time, was chairman of the county Board of Supervisors. The form was a summary of the environmental review of the project and a request for the funds. The Office of Community Renewal found that “the Request for Release of Funds cannot be approved” [the emphasis was in the original letter] because the state agency determined that the project had taken “choice limiting options.” Those options include “the transfer of the property to the business and construction starting at the site.”

The letter for the state, signed by Christian M. Leo, vice-president of the Office of Community Renewal, cited “postings” on the CEDC website, site visits and complaints from county residents as the sources that led to the decision. Mr. Leo was not available for comment Wednesday.

The letter from Mr. Leo said that the funding must be returned to HUD, the federal Department of Housing. He said the money would be “reallocated per the NYS Action Plan” and the county was no longer eligible to use it.

The proposal for the 65,454-square-foot, 50-foot-tall warehouse on state Route 66 has generated controversy since shortly after it was proposed two years ago. Among the most contentious issues were the decision of the CEDC to transfer the land for the project–33 acres that crosses the boundary between the Towns of Ghent and Claverack–to Ginsberg’s for $1. State investigators later found that the CEDC land transfer was proper, but the transfer was announced well before the county filed its request for funds for the project.

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