November 2015: Agribusiness

Agency cooperation critical to future

Matteson_JayWThe Jefferson County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board is wrapping up work on a new County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Plan. The county’s original Farmland Protection Plan was completed in 2002 and proved to be a strong guide in how to support our agricultural industry. There were many successes from the 2002 plan, including improved communication and cooperation among the agencies who serve agriculture. In 2002, the agencies involved in supporting agriculture in Jefferson County began quarterly meetings. We called these meetings the Ag Agency Roundtable. But more interesting in the success of this effort is the response we’ve received from the consulting firm who is assisting in the development of our new plan. [Read more…]

November 2015: Business Briefcase

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Tax, business law firm opens Watertown office

Attorney and certified public accountant Joseph M. Callahan has opened a tax and business law firm in the former Agricultural Insurance Co. building, 215 Washington St.

The Watertown office, started in September, is the fourth location in upstate New York opened by Mackay, Caswell & Callahan P. C. The firm also has locations in Syracuse, Rochester and Utica. Mr. Callahan said he is the sole owner of the firm; the two former partners listed in the firm’s name have died.

Mr. Callahan, who has practiced law about 30 years, said he saw a need to open an office in Watertown to do business with clients face to face. The firm is staffed by two enrolled agents. “Clients want to deal with people face to face, and that’s why a brick-and-mortar location makes sense,” said the Syracuse native, who has had clients in the Watertown area about 15 years.

Mr. Callahan, who has practiced law in Syracuse since 1988, said he opened his Rochester office last year and the Utica location this summer. Among other things, he said, his firm specializes in helping clients resolve issues with disputed unpaid taxes.

“After the economic downturn in 2008, I started specializing more in tax work and helping people out with back taxes,” he said, adding his experience as an attorney and CPA enables him to handle a variety of complex legal issues. “I can take it from the investigative stage through the completion stage in court.”

Visit the firm’s website, https://mcc4tax.com.

MANUFACTURING

Air Brake still plans $3.6m Watertown expansion

Recent job cuts at New York Air Brake will not affect the company’s planned $3.6 million expansion that will house its engineering test lab, according to the company’s president.

Preliminary construction work began this fall on the expansion project at the Starbuck Avenue company, which calls for a 7,300-square-foot addition to the test lab, President Michael J. Hawthorne said Friday.

The foundation for the two-story addition has been completed, he said, and the project is expected to be done by the end of the year.

The project is expected to create 10 engineering jobs with an annual salary of $67,000. It remains underway after the company recently laid off 20 salaried workers and 15 hourly production workers. Fifteen more hourly workers are expected to lose their jobs by the end of the year.

Mr. Hawthorne said cuts were made due to an anticipated decline in demand over the next three years for the company’s brake systems, manufactured for railroad cars and locomotives.

Nevertheless, he said, the company hasn’t discarded its investment plans.

Cuts “were in response to a soft market, and we’re not changing our investment plans moving forward,” he said. “We’re still fully committed to the expansion.”

Air Brake plans to invest $2 million to build the addition, which will connect the 252,250-square-foot main plant with a cold-storage building. The remaining $1.6 million would go toward product testing equipment the company will use to simulate the conditions brake systems on freight trains undergo.

To help fund the project, the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency approved a 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement earlier this year that calls for a 50 percent tax abatement over the period, along with a sales-tax exemption on construction materials.

AGRICULTURE

State grants $1.5m to farms for water projects

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets awarded about $1.54 million in combined funding to soil and water conservation districts in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties to support water-quality projects at farms.

The funding was announced last month as part of $11.1 million to support 29 conservation projects across 116 farms statewide. Funds will aid farms with projects that prevent water pollution, reduce erosion and protect waterways from harmful sediments and nutrients.

The Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded $1,057,925 for the implementation of cover crops to address water-quality concerns at six farms in the Sandy Creek and Stony Creek watersheds. Both watersheds drain into Lake Ontario and are documented as “impaired” on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Priority Waterbody List.

Among other conservation practices, farms will develop riparian buffers on cropland to keep nutrients and other pollutants out of waterways, said Christine M. Watkins, executive director for the district. Buffers are permanent strips of vegetation, situated near waterways, that cannot be used for crops.

“Regulated farms already have a certain setback from waterways, but the installation of vegetative buffers gives us more protection,” she said Wednesday.

Mrs. Watkins, who declined to identify farms, said projects will likely begin in 2016.

The St. Lawrence County Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded $482,555 to help one undisclosed farm in the Raquette River watershed develop practices to address water-quality concerns in the village of Potsdam. The project calls for the construction of a waste storage structure to protect the river from pollutants.

Jefferson County Soil and Water begins Sandy Creek restoration

The project manager for the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, Levi F. Rudd, is overseeing the stream bank stabilization project. Norm Johnston/ Watertown Daily Times

A once peaceful curve in Sandy Creek looked like a construction site Tuesday.

The distinct growl and whine of a backhoe that had carved out and dried up a slice of the creek could be heard echoing from the forest backdrop as it picked up and deposited materials along a 560-foot section of the bank.

Workers, baking in the midafternoon sun, laid out materials and pounded stakes into the ground as the yellow machine scraped and lifted and deposited earth and stone along the formerly fragile habitat.

If you didn’t know any better, you would think there was a serious crime against nature being committed at the site.

But visit again in two years, and it will seem that no one from a work crew had ever been there, according to project manager Levi F. Rudd.

Mr. Rudd is a district technician for the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the work being done Tuesday represents not a major new commercial development in the heart of prime agricultural land but instead the first leg of an ambitious $300,000, five-section stream-bank restoration project being undertaken by the district.

The project, which has been four years in the making, is using a technique pioneered by hydrologist David L. Rosgen by incorporating natural and reclaimed materials into the stream bank to prevent soil and sediment erosion and improve the fish habitat in two bodies of water here.

“It’s great to be able to take a project like this from the grant-writing phase through the survey, permitting, and construction phases to the finished product,” Mr. Rudd said.

Instead of stone or freshly cut lumber, the district will use trees from the county forest that have blown over in high winds.

After they were exposed to weather, the trees became stained and unsuitable for lumber.

But with their root structures intact, they provide an ideal material for bank stabilization, according to Mr. Rudd.

On Tuesday, the trunks of the trees were being embedded into the bank and weighed down with dirt and stone as two workers placed willow branches on top of the layers of crisscrossed trunks before wrapping the structure with an erosion control material that will protect the newly built bank for 24 months.

The material, composed of coconut fiber and jute — a vegetable fiber that can be spun into thread — will be anchored with willow stakes that eventually will grow into 15- to 20-foot-tall trees, further strengthening the bank as the erosion control material deteriorates.

The technique, which is relatively new to New York, has been used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with great success over the past three years, Mr. Rudd said.

Before the project began, the bank was being undercut and 1- to 2-foot pieces of bank were falling into the water, polluting the aerated pools where fish like to spawn, smothering the newly laid eggs.

Once the project is completed, the gnarled roots of the trees will provide a protected place for fish to lay their eggs, according to Mr. Rudd.

Other stream bank restoration projects have used rock, which is smooth and can actually make water flow faster, encouraging erosion, Mr. Rudd said.

Certain sections of the creek will be fitted with rock veins that will back water up to create deeper pools in places and will funnel water toward the center of the creek and away from the sides.

Work began on this section of the creek last Wednesday, when Jeffrey L. Benthin, owner of J.B.’s Excavation Services, Apalachin, diverted water into an overflow channel and completed his preparations.

On Monday, Mr. Benthin placed the tree trunks against the bank before starting to weigh them down with earth on Tuesday. By Friday this section will be completed.

The district then will move on to two other sections of the creek before work stops Sept. 15 for trout spawning season.

The final two sections of the creek will be restored after June 1 next year, when construction can begin again.

The project is being paid for with state and federal grants.

-Daniel Flatley, Watertown Daily Times

Managing our natural resources

During the Dust Bowl era of the early 20th century, millions of tons of soil eroded off the land into the sea. The United States saw the productivity of farms literally washing away. Farms went out of business, and many of the businesses in local communities that depended, directly and indirectly on farms, followed. [Read more…]