Lewis County Planning Board approves revised Kraft Heinz expansion

LOWVILLE — The Lewis County Planning Board on Thursday once again gave its seal of approval to a Kraft Heinz expansion plan, this time for a large addition consisting of only one story instead of two.

“It’s a very impressive project,” said Lewis County Planning Director Frank J. Pace.

Board members by a 5-0 vote approved a new plan featuring a net increase of 54,448 square feet, up from around 37,000 square feet under the previously approved proposal.

The project would include a 67,756-square-foot string cheese addition in the rear of the plant, a 5,923-square-foot receiving bay addition on the north side and a 2,169-square-foot two-pack addition on the front, but a portion of the current plant is to be demolished first.

Kraft Heinz representative Brian P. Western said the company decided to change the project’s engineering firm to Excel Engineering Inc., Fond du Lac, Wis., since it has extensive experience on similar projects, including the expansion several years ago at Great Lakes Cheese Co. in Adams.

While original plans — approved by the county and village planning boards in November — had cheesemaking equipment on the second floor, Excel officials recommended a single-story design for that particular machinery, Mr. Western said.

The two-pack addition would be for equipment to package two bricks of cream cheese together, he said.

The string cheese process would produce cream that could be used in the making of the plant’s main product, cream cheese, and the expansion will obviously mean an increased demand for milk, Mr. Western said.

Kraft Heinz has indicated that daily truck traffic at the plant could increase from 20 to around 70, according to Mr. Pace’s review of the project.

An agreement between the state and Kraft Heinz was announced in early November to ensure the Lowville plant will preserve its employment base of 340 and add 110 jobs over the next five years.

The revised project must still be approved by the village Planning Board, which has set a public hearing for 6 p.m. Feb. 1 at the municipal building on Bostwick Street.

The village Board of Trustees at its meeting Wednesday night discussed the new proposal and possibility of retaining an independent engineer to assist with the project review.

“It’s not uncommon to do that for large projects,” village attorney Mark G. Gebo told trustees.

While Excel had earlier submitted site plan documents on the new proposal, the village and county this week received a packet of much more detailed drawings.

Deputy Mayor Joseph G. Beagle said that while Department of Public Works Superintendent Thomas S. Compo, who previously worked as an engineer, would certainly be capable of reviewing them, he’s already “got too many irons in the fire.”

Village trustees appeared interested in the concept of getting engineering help, but Mr. Gebo said that decision — and whether to request that the applicant cover associated costs — ultimately falls with the village Planning Board. A special work session could be scheduled to keep the review process moving, but that would only be necessary if Planning Board members ask for the technical assistance, he said.

By Steve Virkler, Watertown Daily Times