Massena town lawmakers unanimously approve feasibility study of taking over Alcoa water plant
Thursday, December 28, 2017 - 6:13 am

By ANDY GARDNER

MASSENA -- After a discussion at their Dec. 20 meeting where councilmen expressed mixed feelings over taking over a water plant, the board voted 5-0 following executive session to request a feasibility study.

The board at the meeting discussed taking over a water treatment plant at the former Alcoa East site. Joe Gray, the outgoing town supervisor, says he thinks it’s in the town’s best interest to pursue the deal, but some of the board members who will remain don’t share his optimism.

“We talked a lot about it at the meeting. Some think it’s a good idea, some are very hesitant. If the town proceeds with at study, hopefully it will give us more answers,” Gray said.

The board’s vote means the council will ask Tisdale Associates of Canton to prepare a proposal for a study to determine if taking over the plant is feasible.

“We’re just asking them to give us a proposal to study it. It depends on what they think needs to be looked at, as well as what the Town Council thinks needs to be looked at,” Gray said.

He said Tisdale will be asked to look at the “condition of existing operation. If it’s old, is it well-maintained ... is it still viable?”

There’s no cost attached at this point, Gray said.

“If they come back and say it’s going to cost, you know, $20,000 for a study then the town needs to decide if they want to study that or not,” Gray said.

Gray, a Republican, will leave the supervisor’s office at the end of 2017. He was denied a third term in the November election, losing the post to Councilman Steve O’Shaughnessy, a Democrat.

Gray said he thinks the former Alcoa East site will have a tenant, which would be Massena water customer if they take over the plant.

“I think you’ll see a tenant at the Alcoa East plant within a year,” Gray said. “I think it’s an opportunity you shouldn’t walk away from.”

When asked, he said he hasn’t heard any specific plans for a tenant to buy or lease the property, but said Alcoa and the county IDA are marketing it.

“Alcoa has been marketed it for quite a while,” he said. “There are a lot of prospective tenants, it’ s just are they a fit and can a deal be struck?”

Gray said they could also find another tenant at the nearby Rooseveltown border station, and a third if the RACER trust successfully sells the former GM site.

Councilman Sam Carbone said he toured the building and thinks it could be too much to be worthwhile for the town.

“First of all we’re not in the water business now and to step into that, it’s quite a large step,” Carbone said. “You need a chief water operator to run the thing.”

He said the water facility buildings on the site are uninsulated aluminum, which could be costly to heat in the cold months.

He said government regulation of chlorinated water systems could result in fines if they don’t exactly conform to legal standards.

“You’ve got operators, you’ve got chlorine, you’ve got maintenance … It’s quite a complicated system, really,” Carbone said.

“If there are issues with having water that’s not to the chlorine standards … you may actually have fines if you have too many of those incidences. It is a large liability. And without a customer base, it may end up costing the taxpayers money to maintain that system,” said Councilman Steve O’Shaughnessy, who is also town supervisor-elect.

During a brief speech toward the end of Gray’s final Town Council meeting, where the plant issue was discussed and the vote to request the study occurred, he implored the council to go through with the water plant deal.

“The Town Council needs to begin looking at the big picture and what is possible in years to come. The proposal to take over the water plant at the former Alcoa East plant is an example of what I am referring. You can look at it and see an aged facility with drawbacks, or you can look at what it is: a tremendous potential benefit for Massena with some challenges. Honestly, the Town of Massena would be foolish to walk away from the opportunity. Please don’t prove me right,” Gray said.