A California-based water bottling company has dropped a proposal to build a sprawling manufacturing facility in the Town of Ulster that would have taken millions of gallons a year of City of Kingston water and bottled it for sale.
Don Katt, president of SUNY Ulster said Friday, Feb. 13 that he received a one-paragraph email from Niagara Bottling that morning indicating that the company had disqualified the site adjacent to the former IBM complex from consideration. Katt, who had sought a partnership between Niagara and the school, said the note did not explain the decision. But he believes a groundswell of local opposition to the proposal was behind Niagara’s pullout.
“I know they have been following the news coverage over the last six months and I imagine it’s the opposition [that led them to drop the proposal],” said Katt. “They felt they were not welcome here and decided to look elsewhere.”
That opposition began almost immediately after the proposal — which had been discussed quietly with town, city and county officials since April 2014 — became public in September. The plan called for Niagara to build a $54 million, 418,000-square-foot bottling plant on the vacant 57-acre parcel. Production would be split between water trucked into the plant from area springs and water purchased from Kingston’s municipal water supply. The plant would have employed about 120 people while payments to the Kingston Water Board would have offset some $18 million in maintenance and upgrade costs planned in the next five years.
It was the proposal to use Kingston water, up to 1.75 million gallons of it per day, which sparked the most intense opposition to the plan. Critics said that the extra strain on the city’s water system could deplete the Cooper Lake watershed in Woodstock and prevent future development in the city. Other critics said that bottled water was an inherent environmental evil which should not be supported by a city which has in recent years adopted a number of eco-friendly policies. Concerns about increased truck traffic and impacts on the Esopus Creek, into which the plant would have discharged wastewater, were also cited by plant opponents.
Niagara’s decision to abandon the Town of Ulster site comes as the company was set to embark on a state-mandated environmental review of the project. Opponents of the plan lobbied successfully for a more-painstaking “Type 1” review of the proposal and unsuccessfully to have the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation assume “lead agency” status. The company was also in the process of working with SUNY Ulster to get the decade of lucrative tax breaks conferred by the state’s Start-Up NY program.
Kingston resident Rebecca Martin, who heads KingstonCitizens.Org which has opposed the plan, said Friday she believed the company was scared off by the prospect of a rigorous and closely watched review of the proposal.
“For us this has always been about having a process and understanding what this proposal was all about,” said Martin. “Niagara walking away shows that that kind of process might not have been what anybody was looking for.”
Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley III said Friday he was declining comment until he had a chance to talk with Niagara officials himself.