Lewis County recycling center upgrade bids come in around $300,000

Bids for an upgrade project at the Lewis County recycling center intended to improve its no-sort system came in around the $300,000 mark, as anticipated. [Read more…]

Lewis County kicks off economic development marketing plan

Lewis County has kicked off its “Naturally Lewis” economic development marketing plan, complete with a new logo. [Read more…]

Watertown councilman says city should explore CitiBus run by transit authority

Travelers ready to embark a CitiBus at the downtown Terminal.

Travelers ready to embark a CitiBus at the downtown Terminal. Watertown Daily Times file photo.

City Councilman Mark C. Walczyk wants the city to look into whether the CitiBus public bus system should be run by a transportation authority. [Read more…]

November 2015 20 Questions: James W. Wright, DANC

Regional solutions at work

Development Authority of the North Country executive director James W. “Jim” Wright talkes about the Authority’s 30-year history in his office at the Dulles State Office Building, Watertown. Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Business.

Development Authority of the North Country executive director James W. “Jim” Wright talkes about the Authority’s 30-year history in his office at the Dulles State Office Building, Watertown. Photo by Justin Sorensen, NNY Business.

30 years later, DANC develops tools for success

A landfill hauler dumps trash at a regional solid waste management
facility. Workers install new fiber-optic cable for a high-speed telecommunications line. An entrepreneur acquires a loan to start a seasonal resort.

Those are but a few activities in Northern New York made possible by the Development Authority of the North Country, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. The authority has seen many growing pains since it was established in June 1985 by the state Legislature, finding numerous ways to contract with municipalities and residents across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. On the occasion of 30 years of service, we sat down with DANC Executive Director James W. “Jim” Wright to learn more about his agency’s mission and its future. [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.

Lewis educational, governmental leaders connect with Utica tech colleges

UTICA — Attracted by a growing nanotechnology industry in Oneida County, a group of Lewis County educational and governmental leaders last week toured a pair of tech colleges in Utica to learn more about how to tap into that growth. [Read more…]

Colorado developer plans $5.5m solar project in Philadelphia

A Colorado developer plans to build a $5.5 million solar project on Philadelphia farmland to sell power to Utica and Watertown companies, with New York Air Brake and Renzi Foodservice as potential clients.

The tentative project has been in the works since the early summer but came to light only last week, when grant funding was announced for the New York State Energy and Development Authority’s NY-Sun incentive program. Solar Power Financial of Boulder, Colo., was tentatively awarded funding to build a 4 megawatt solar array in the town of Philadelphia, where it has an option to lease 20 acres from a private landowner.

The proposal was among 10 such projects planned in central and northern New York by the developer, which could collectively be awarded $11 million; 20 percent of each project would be funded. To officially be awarded funding, the developer will have to finalize power purchasing agreements with companies by January.

Companies would be supplied power using “remote net metering,” in which electricity produced by the solar array would be fed into the grid. Customers would save 10 percent to 15 percent on electricity, according to Todd Stewart, a partner in Solar Power Financial.

Along with pursuing local manufacturers, the developer said Wednesday it has secured non-binding commitments from Conmed Corp., a Utica medical technology company, and St. Elizabeth Medical Center.

SPECULATIVE INFORMATION?

Board members of the Jefferson County Local Development Corp. weren’t previously made aware of the solar proposal, although agency CEO Donald C. Alexander knew about it. Mr. Alexander said the developer told him about the project this summer, but he chose not to tell the board because he considered the information too speculative. He said he provided the developer contact information for local companies, including New York Air Brake and Renzi Foodservice.

News about the solar project came as Rochester energy consultant Entecco LLC was preparing a $4 million NYSERDA grant application for a renewable energy project planned by the local development agency. The project would serve three manufacturers at the City Center Industrial Park: Current Applications, Roth Industries and Renzi Foodservice. A solar array is planned as a component of that project, which calls for a mix of renewable energy sources to be launched, such as biomass and geothermal.

“The application process for the grant was well underway by the time I heard about this other project, so timing had something to do with it,” Mr. Alexander said Wednesday about his decision to withhold information about the solar project. “It was very speculative when I first heard about it, and we had already embarked on” the project with Entecco, “and worked on it for several months.”

He continued, “There was certainly no intent to not disclose this information by any stretch,” he said, adding that speculative projects “have to be fleshed out before we take them to the board.”

After learning about the solar project from a reporter Wednesday, JCLDC board member Scott A. Gray said he was disturbed that Mr. Alexander kept it from the board because he deemed it speculative. Mr. Gray said Entecco’s proposal also could be considered “somewhat speculative.”

“A lot of what we delve into and discuss is speculative to a certain extent, so I don’t see that as a reason not to bring it to the board,” said Mr. Gray, who is also a Jefferson County legislator. “Number two, if there was state funding or grants involved, that would probably be another reason it should be brought to the board. If it’s getting the state’s attention, it’s certainly worthy of ours.”

Board member Donald L. DiMonda, by contrast, said he supported Mr. Alexander’s decision after learning about the circumstances. “I trust Don’s judgment to make us aware of things we are interested in in a timely fashion,” he said.

Mr. Alexander said he views the tentative solar project as a “companion piece” to the Entecco proposal that would give manufacturers another way to reduce energy costs. Renzi Foodservice, for example, might decide to participate in both initiatives, he said.

“Entecco is building a car, and (the other) group is supplying tires,” he said. “One of the mechanisms that we would be able to provide through Entecco’s efforts is remote net metering. They’re providing tires, which every car needs, but the car has other components.”

Entecco President John Bay declined to comment Wednesday about Solar Power Financial’s project.

OUT-OF-STATE DEVELOPERS LURED

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced last week that the latest pool of $94 million awarded to solar developers is expected to increase the state’s solar capacity by more than 214 megawatts — a 68 percent increase from the end of 2013. Projects are planned at 142 sites statewide, leveraging private investment of more than $375 million.

New incentives for developers rolled out by the state attracted Solar Power Financial — along with several other out-of-state companies — to do business here by applying for grant funding, Mr. Stewart said Wednesday. Launched in 2008, the small Colorado firm has led projects in markets across the country and has an office in the Bronx, Mr. Stewart said. Like other solar developers, the firm partners with the some of the country’s largest renewable-energy investors.

For the latest round of projects proposed in New York, Mr. Stewart said, the firm will be backed financially by NextEra Energy Inc., a Florida clean-energy company with revenues of about $15 billion.

“We’re a small firm, but we partner with some of the largest companies for financing,” he said. “In this case, NextEra Energy will be the long-term owner of solar assets and hold onto them for 20 years. The company sells (solar) benefits to customers under power purchase agreements.”

Mr. Stewart said that his firm was attracted to farmland in the town of Philadelphia because it is situated inside a strategic area designated by National Grid where an incentive for solar projects is offered by NYSERDA. A total of 25 percent of project costs are reimbursed to developers leading projects in such strategic areas. In the Philadelphia project’s case, “it means about $300,000 in incentive money,” he said. He said it is not clear why National Grid identified Philadelphia as a strategic location.

Mr. Stewart said he is confident that projects planned by the developer will be awarded funding by NYSERDA. But that will depend on whether companies which have expressed interest in purchasing power follow through. NYSERDA won’t award funding unless the developer secures commitments from companies that total 20 megawatts, which would be spread across the 10 projects Solar Power Financial has planned.

“We have customers lined up for all of it,” he said. “There’s risk in it, but I definitely believe it’s going to be a reality.”

In Jefferson County, Mr. Stewart said he is confident that New York Air Brake and Renzi Foodservice will commit to the project. Their interest in the project could not be immediately confirmed Wednesday night.

“My preference as a developer would be to do this with someone locally, and New York Air Brake is a great company,” he said. “They haven’t signed a non-binding agreement, but they have a great advocate there that is interested in making that happen.”

 

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer