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Allegany County dairy farm fighting to keep its land

The Allegany County Industrial Development Agency wants to take the land and compensate the owner to make way for a $500 million cheese manufacturing plant.

BELMONT, N.Y. — A dairy farm in Allegany County is fighting to keep its land that could be taken and used to build a massive cheese plant just off I-86 in Angelica.

The county industrial development agency or ACIDA wants to use eminent domain to get the project off the ground in order to build a 480,000-square-foot facility for the Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese Company.

"We started working on this project with Great Lakes Cheese in October of 2019," ACIDA executive director Craig Clark said.

Clark and his team believe the project, which promises to bring 200 new jobs to the area and carry over 229 others from the Empire Cheese plant in Cuba, is for the greater economic good of the community.

But the owner of the 229-acre piece of property off County Route 20 doesn't see it that way.

Credit: ACIDA.org
The 229-acre piece of property sits in both Amity and Angelica just off I-86.

"They tried to purchase it. We did not want to sell it. The price that we offered reflected that, but then eventually they began the eminent domain process," according to Mallards Dairy managing member Charlie Bares.

"I did not expect it. I didn't even know that eminent domain could be used for that."

The land isn't connected to the dairy but is only about 15 miles southeast, down I-86 in the town of Belmont. Bares says it plays a key role in supplying tons of alfalfa every year for his herd, plus he believes untouched farmland like it is disappearing too fast.

Credit: WGRZ.com
These cows are part of the 3,000 plus herd at Mallards Dairy on Rawson Road in Cuba, NY.

As of November of 2020, Great Lakes Cheese had annual revenues of $3.3 billion, over 3,000 employees and, according to Forbes magazine, is the 139th largest private company in the United States.

Their existing plant in Cuba, which makes mozzarella and provolone under the name Empire Cheese, is smaller than the one they're hoping to build on Bares' property.

Production at the new facility would also require double the amount of milk and would go from 2 million to 4 million pounds a day.

Like any large company, Clark says they play a key role in the county, so there is pressure to keep them in the Southern Tier. But he added that Great Lakes Cheese also expressed a desire to stay in the area.

"That's rare, you don't usually see so much care for keeping existing employees," Clark said.

The ACIDA has approved around $200 million in tax incentives, which will be divvied out over 20 years.

In New York State, local governments have the right to take private property as long as it's deemed for a public purpose. If there is a disagreement, the landowner can file a petition and the case heads to court.

That's the step in the process Mallards Dairy Inc. and Marsh Acres LLC., the landholding company co-owned by Bares and his partner Joe Strzelec, are at right now.

"The only thing I can say is that the IDA sees [eminent domain] as a last chance opportunity to help this project along, it's not something we took lightly," Craig Clark said.

Added Bares: "They are aiding a private business and meanwhile they're hurting our business and ironically we're both in the milk business."

Despite emails and calls made by 2 On Your Side as far back as April 24, Great Lakes Cheese has not responded to requests for comment or an interview.

Documents on the ACIDA website explain that the company looked at eighty initial sites, which were whittled down to four. But according to Clark and the ACIDA, the only one that was "technically and economically feasible" was Marsh Acres.

Credit: WGRZ.com
Great Lakes Cheese hopes to build a new $500 million facility on this field if the Allegany County Industrial Development Agency can secure the land.

Clark added that Bares' idea that the ACIDA was taking from one company to help another was ...

"I guess that's his opinion, that's all I'll say, because I think what we're trying to do is making sure we benefit the full county, and I think at the end of the day, we'll all find out that everyone benefits including Charlie," he said.

Clark is hoping that a deal will be made between Great Lakes Cheese and the team at Mallards Dairy, although how much was previously offered has not been made public.

Bares added: "I don't think our chances are good, nope, but it doesn't make it right. What they're doing isn't right, and I will stand up for it, as long as I can."