Schumer urges USDA to help Watertown company with permit

Courtney Schermerhorn, site manager for Midway International Logistics, gives the Times a tour of the facility Friday. Bureaucratic red tape has caused the company to lose a $1.75 million contract to import meat from Canada. Photo by Justin Sorensen, Watertown Daily Times.

Courtney Schermerhorn, site manager for Midway International Logistics, gives the Times a tour of the facility Friday. Bureaucratic red tape has caused the company to lose a $1.75 million contract to import meat from Canada. Photo by Justin Sorensen, Watertown Daily Times.

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer has stepped in to help a local company get through bureaucratic red tape to receive a federal permit to import meat from Canada.

Sen. Schumer got involved in the situation after the company, Midway International Logistics LLC, was unable to receive a permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to import meat products from a Canadian client.

The USDA told company officials last fall that it decided to change its application process.

In a letter on Tuesday, Sen. Schumer urged Alfred V. Almanza, administrator for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, to help Midway navigate through the agency’s inspection process. He requested that the USDA immediately complete an inspection of the Bradley Street facility, contending it’s “imperative” to create jobs in Northern New York.

“This red tape is preventing this company from increasing its operations and adding valuable jobs in a community that needs to preserve and encourage job creation,” Sen. Schumer said. “Simply put, the bureaucratic red tape that the company is putting up with is not acceptable. Which is why I am urging USDA to send an inspector to the plant ASAP so they can demonstrate they deserve a permit.”

For the past two years, Midway tried to receive a permit to import meat products from a Canadian client. Jay M. Matteson, agricultural coordinator for Jefferson County Local Development Corp., got Sen. Schumer involved after hearing the company recently lost a $1.75 million contract and the ability to create between 5 and 20 jobs at its headquarters in the former Renzi Foodservice building at 948 Bradley St.

Midway officials were told last September that the USDA put the application on hold, while the agency combines its import and export divisions and changes all of its rules and regulations for the process,

They also were told the company would have to start the process all over again but only after the USDA figures things out.

Josh Stull, a spokesman for the USDA’s Congressional Affairs Office, could not be reached for comment. It was unclear on Tuesday if and when the USDA would inspect the facility or how quickly the company could receive a permit.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Courtney Schermerhorn, the company’s site manager, said she hadn’t been contacted by the USDA but had talked to representatives of Sen. Schumer’s office about the situation.

“I really don’t want to say too much until I hear a response from the USDA about this,” she said.

Mr. Matteson became frustrated that the USDA’s actions prevented the north country from getting much-needed agricultural jobs, so he reached out to the senator’s office.

Now employing a handful of workers, Midway distributes chicken products, such as chicken fingers, chicken nuggets and chicken breasts, from the South, arranges food inspections by the federal Food and Drug Administration and then ships the products off to Canadian businesses.

The company now is allowed to arrange for USDA inspections for other Canadian meat products in Plattsburgh, but this particular client did not want the inspections to occur there. Instead, the client required the inspections to take place in Midway’s multi-temperature storage warehouse. The products would have been brought to a 10,000-square-foot dry-storage room and placed on pallets there, Ms. Schermerhorn said.

The client wanted to prevent the extra 10 hours it would take to get its products inspected in Plattsburgh and then trucked for delivery, company officials said last week.

Midway has been doing business in the facility since 2014, when it started renting a small cooler, but has since grown. Last fall, owner Modhar Mousa acquired the building from Renzi for $1.3 million.

By Craig Fox, Watertown Daily Times