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O-AT-KA Milk Products

October 19, 2021 - 9:16am

Recovery of the lagoons at Batavia Waste Water Treatment Plant is heading in the right direction, according to the city’s attorney, but the end to limiting the discharge from the O-At-Ka Milk Products facility is likely several weeks away.

“We’re closely monitoring the ponds and are seeing signs of progress to determine if the BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) recovery is on track,” George Van Nest said on Monday. “We’re checking it daily, twice a day, and also monitoring O-At-Ka’s loads. But the ponds are still not fully recovered at DO (Dissolved Oxygen) levels and they need to sustain (permitted levels).”

Over the past few weeks, O-At-Ka has had to pay companies to truck wastewater from its Cedar Street plant due to discovery of excessive levels of biosolids being discharged into the WWTP, costing the company around $25,0000 per day, Chief Executive Officer Bill Schreiber said.

O-At-Ka has called upon the city to sit down with company officials and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to find “a three-party solution” to bridge the gap until the Upstate Niagara-owned business completes a $6 million on-site pre-treatment plant project in the next six to eight weeks.

Contacted on Monday, Schreiber said he was “hopeful that we will be able to schedule a three-party meeting in the near future.”

“Our goal remains to discuss the implementation of potential solutions to accelerate the recovery of the city’s lagoons,” he said.

BOD Load Levels Are Improving

Van Nest said the city had no choice but to send a cease-and-desist letter to O-At-Ka on Sept. 23 because the BOD loads were too high.

‘We have seen significant reductions as a result of the trucking, but even with the trucking, there have been only three days below the permitted level, and closer to the level on several days,” he said.

The code gives the municipality the right to cease-and-desist, and allows the city to shut off discharges to the system completely, he said.

“The city has not done that. We’re working to get the discharge limits met and in compliance while the pond recovers.”

Van Nest said that O-At-Ka’s offer to pay any fines incurred for excessive discharge into the WWTP is not an answer to the problem.

“The ponds need to operate properly. It’s not a matter of we can indemnify you (the city) by discharging beyond the permitted level,” he said, adding that the city is responsible to its taxpayers.

“It’s taking some time to recover. We’re looking for sustainability and believe that is fairly a short-term to get to the point where engineers (working with the city) and (the WWTP) operator is comfortable with (the levels). These are 30-acre ponds, and the volumes are huge.”

'Permit Sets The Conditions'

Van Nest, when asked about a three-party solution as proposed by Schreiber and John Gould, Upstate Niagara chairman of the board, said “the solutions they are pushing for are related to the plant … and the (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit sets the conditions.”

“The city is open to meeting with O-At-Ka and its engineers,” he said. “We’re ready, willing and able to sit down with them and look at other potential solutions.”

Still, he said he doesn’t believe any of the alternatives offered by O-At-Ka will reduce the time needed for the ponds to recover to permitted DO levels.

“They mentioned cleaning the diffusers. That would be a public project that needs to be bid, let and issued, and funded. It’s a long process that would take a lot of time,” he said. “And how much of an impact would that have on the oxygen levels in the pond?”

Van Nest said sampling data showing elevated BOD and TSS (Total Suspended Solids) levels indicate that O-At-Ka increased its production capacity beyond its pre-treatment capacity.

Schreiber countered that by mentioning that the characteristics of O-At-Ka’s wastewater haven’t changed.

City Has Been Collecting Surcharges

“These are the same loads we’ve been putting down historically,” he said. “We’ve paid the city surcharges for those loads. They’re well aware of what the characteristics of what our wastewater have been and they’ve happily collected those surcharges.”

He said O-At-Ka has paid approximately $60,000 per quarter in surcharges, which are for BOD and TSS over the permitted level of 300 parts per million.

O-At-Ka’s existing pre-treatment plant is between 15 and 20 years old. In January of this year, the company’s board of directors approved a $6 million capital project to put in a new pre-treatment plant (located off Cedar Street).

“Originally, we had planned to have that up at the end of October or early November, but like everybody else, we’ve experienced a number of supply chain challenges that have pushed the date out to mid-December,” Schreiber said.

“But, again, looking to control the things we can control – such as flows down the drain – we’ve redoubled our efforts to expedite getting components here, and we think we’ll be able to get it operational between the middle of November and early December.”

Even if that’s up and running in five weeks, it would cost O-At-Ka around $875,000 to haul the wastewater to other locations.

Schreiber said O-At-Ka typically discharges around 575,000 gallons of wastewater – a milky water mixed with detergent – to the WWTP. Now, with the restrictions, that amount is 475,000 to 500,000 gallons per day.

Pre-Treatment Upgrade Underway

O-At-Ka’s current pre-treatment operation consists of two separate 150,000-gallon equalization tanks that balance pH and BOD loading, Schreiber said. The wastewater flows to the Primary Dissolved Air Flotation, which can process 360 gallons per minute, removing 25 percent of the solids.

After that, it goes to the digester, removing organic materials at 330 gallons per minute, and leaves an Immobilized Cell Bioreactor and flows through tubes that mix wastewater with chemicals to provide coagulation and flocculation. Lastly, the wastewater flows through the Secondary DAF, removing 85 to 90 percent of solids.

“The pre-treatment plant upgrades will double EQ capacity and significantly enhances the ability to remove BOD and TSS,” Schreiber said.

He said the new EQ tank is 600,000 gallons and the new moving Bed Bio Reactor can process 12,000 pounds of BOD per day. The company also has purchased three 250-horsepower blowers to make the process more efficient, and is installing an additional DAF capable of 540 gallons per minute to augment the existing unit.

Previously: O-At-Ka offers alternatives, claims city is protected as it seeks to end hauling of wastewater from its facility

Comments
October 16, 2021 - 11:39am
posted by Mike Pettinella in news, notify, O-AT-KA Milk Products, cybersecurity.

O-At-Ka Milk Products’ information technology team is working with law enforcement and cybersecurity experts in the wake of “a sophisticated cyber-attack” that began earlier this week.

Bill Schreiber, chief executive officer of the milk processing plant at Cedar Street and Ellicott Street Road, confirmed to The Batavian that the ransomware attack started on Thursday night and affected to varying degrees company computers, time clocks and other equipment.

“O-At-Ka did experience a sophisticated cyber-attack, and our team responded immediately and has been working around the clock to remedy the situation and resume normal operations,” he said. “We have been working with law enforcement and industry experts to investigate and recover from the attack.”

Schreiber said O-At-Ka routinely prepares for such attacks and “the contingencies we put in place have been effective in restoring and maintaining our business functions.”

“Our customers have been minimally impacted and we continue to work with them on a routine basis to ensure ongoing operations and business continuity,” he said. “I’m thankful for the team’s continued hard work and efforts in response to the attack.”

Comments
October 15, 2021 - 3:06pm

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Update: 6:30 p.m. -- See bottom of the story

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The chief executive officer at O-At-Ka Milk Products today said engineers at the Upstate Niagara cooperative-owned milk processing plant are prepared to present alternatives that would satisfy the City of Batavia and bring an end to a situation that is forcing the company to spend $25,000 to $30,000 per day hauling wastewater away from the facility.

The problem, however, according to Bill Schreiber, is that city management will not sit down with officials from O-At-Ka and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to iron out what he calls “a three-party solution that would be a win-win for everyone involved.”

Schreiber and John Gould, owner of Har-Go Farms in Pavilion and chairman of the board for Upstate Niagara, a consortium of 300 dairy farmers, spoke to The Batavian this morning.

They expressed their dismay over not being able to deposit all of its wastewater into the city’s Waste Water Treatment Plant and “a lack of urgency” from the city.

Gould brought this issue to public light at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting when he informed lawmakers of the staggering costs to haul the wastewater away from O-At-Ka.

Several minutes later, he learned from City Attorney George Van Nest that the municipality had no choice but to enforce a cease-and-desist letter it sent to O-At-Ka after discovering that discharge levels from the Cedar Street plant were above permitted limits.

Van Nest said the DEC sent a notice of violation to the city, threatening enforcement action and large fines because of the oxygen levels in the ponds.

Gould: 'There's Something Wrong Here'

Gould’s anger with the city’s stance came through in his comments earlier today.

“Back to the Council meeting, Mr. Van Nest, puts the fear of God into them with the DEC. So, everybody’s fearful of each other and we’re getting nothing done,” he said. “There was more discussion about who was paying for Christmas in the City then there was about the largest employer in the city and the economic impact upon it. There’s something wrong here.”

Contacted today, City Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. said Council is leaving the matter in the hands of Van Nest, City Manager Rachael Tabelski and engineers working with the city.

“We’re following the advice of our attorney, which is basically telling Mr. Gould and the staff there that they are supposed to talk to the city manager and the city attorney. Those are the people that Council has delegated to address the issue.

“Mr. Gould is bypassing some things and that’s not really for me to say what he is supposed to do or not supposed to do, but we’re not going to comment on it. We’ll let the professionals handle it – the city manager, the engineers, the city staff take care of it.”

Schreiber: Pre-Treatment Plant Upgrade Underway

Schreiber, in his ninth year at O-At-Ka, said the company is about six to eight weeks away from completing a $6 million upgrade to its on-site pre-treatment facility – action that he said will bring an end to this impasse as the amount of Biochemical Oxygen Demand and Total Suspended Solids will return to acceptable levels.

Until that new pre-treatment facility is operational, O-At-Ka is taking a substantial financial hit.

When it was mentioned that the expense could be as much as $1 million over the next 40 days, Schreiber responded: “That puts our business at risk, it puts our customers at risk, it puts our employees at risk and it puts our farmer owners at risk. Absolutely.”

The CEO said he is aware that the city has to comply with its State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, but is seeking for “a bridge” to get us to the start-up of the new treatment facility.

“And what we got in exchange was a cease-and-desist (letter from the city). We don’t understand the lack of cooperation coming out of the city,” he said. “And it’s our understanding that the DEC would be willing to work towards a three-part solution. We’ve sent several letters to the city and we’ve not received a response.”

Schreiber said there are four or five different alternatives that would serve to increase the dissolved oxygen levels in the city’s lagoons, which have yet to recover adequately following replacement of the air header system at the Waste Water Treatment Plant in late August.

“Some of them are routine maintenance; getting into the diffusers and lagoons and cleaning them. That would have an immediate impact,” Schreiber advised.

“There’s a device called a venturi, which essentially serves to incorporate oxygen into the lagoons. There are companies that work with hydrogen peroxide, which when added to the lagoons, breaks down into oxygen and water – and essentially elevates the oxygen levels in the lagoons.”

Furthermore, Schreiber said he “fundamentally disagrees that we’re putting the city and the city’s taxpayers at risk.”

Permit: O-At-Ka Would Be Responsible for Fines

He said the city is protected under Section III.4 of the Industrial Sewer Use Permit, as follows:

“If the User [i.e., O-At-Ka] discharges above its Permit thresholds to such a degree that it causes the Publicly Operated Treatment Works (POTW) to violate its SPDES Permit, the User shall be held responsible for the payment of any fines or penalties levied against the POTW. This is in addition to any extra costs associated with handling such discharges as provided for in the Sewer Use Ordinance.”

“O-At-Ka has told City officials both in writing and verbally that it accepts full responsibility for any fines and penalties issued by the DEC or any other regulatory body that are attributable to our discharges,” he added. “We welcome the inclusion of DEC in these discussions regarding regulatory liability.”

Schreiber said O-At-Ka is seeking “a comprehensive, long-term solution to this.”

“We’re not looking for a band-aid. We recognize that the city has to meet its use permit, and we want to be part of the solution. But there seems to be, in our view, a lack of urgency on the city’s part while we’re burning through cash. We would rather channel those dollars to a constructive solution than use them to haul wastewater away.”

He said there are implementable steps that can be taken at the Waste Water Treatment Plant that will allow for the easing of restrictions on O-At-Ka wastewater discharges without impeding the recovery of the ponds.

“O-At-Ka is not seeking permission to discharge indiscriminately to the city nor are we ignoring the impact high strength wastewater can have on the ponds.  However, we are very confident that there are engineering solutions that can wholly offset the impact and further accelerate the health and recovery of the ponds.”

City Manager: 'We Can't Allow Willful Violations'

The Batavian reached out by email to Tabelski and to the DEC’s press office for comment.

Tabelski, speaking to WBTA Radio earlier this week, said O-At-Ka is “an industry here that we value for their employment and for the use of the milk supply that comes from the farms. That’s not lost on me. But we cannot allow willful violations of permits at the city Waste Water Treatment Plant.”

She also said that O-At-Ka officials acknowledged what they need to get to “a place that allows their discharge to be at a permitted level.”

“Right now, they can be at their permitted level, but they have to truck many, many truckloads of waste away. That’s showing that their capacity isn’t in line with their production,” she said.

Schreiber is calling for a “technical conversation that going to lead us to a resolution of this problem.”

Gould agreed, stating, “Collaboration to us is getting the stakeholders in the same room and sit down and solve the problem."

Schreiber said the O-At-Ka board of directors have approved $35 million in capital spending for 2021 and 2022, but “we’ll have to look really hard at where the next capital investment goes.”

He said completion of the pre-treatment facility will result in a permanent fix.

“As I said, we’re just looking for a bridge, and we can’t seem to get cooperation from the city,” he said. “The city seems to be blaming DEC; everybody but themselves, quite frankly.”

Update:

Comment from City Manager Rachael Tabelski: "In response to your inquiry, there continues to be an ongoing and open dialogue between city officials and O-AT-KA regarding discharge issues at the Waste Water Treatment Plant. As we also have communicated, public health and safety as it pertains to these discharge issues is our number one priority so that the WWTP is operating within all its regulatory obligations."

Statement from NYS DEC: "The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) remains committed to working with all involved parties to develop and implement necessary solutions to address these issues. DEC will continue to meet with the city and O-At-Ka Milk Products regarding technical and infrastructure needs, and will convene additional meetings with these parties as these efforts progress."

Photo at top: O-At-Ka CEO Bill Schreiber and Upstate Niagara Chairman of the Board John Gould in front of the new equalization tank that is part of the company's ongoing upgrade of its pre-treatment facility. Photo by Mike Pettinella.

Previously: City sends 'cease and desist' letter to O-At-Ka Milk as issues at waste water treatment plant continue

October 13, 2021 - 7:01am

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City of Batavia officials are doing everything they can to rectify a dispute with O-At-Ka Milk Products over the milk processing plant’s ability to discharge its waste water into the municipality’s waste water treatment plant, City Attorney George Van Nest said Tuesday night.

The problem, however, according to Van Nest, is that no viable option currently exists to prevent the city from enforcing the “cease and desist” letter it has issued to O-At-Ka after discovering exceedingly high levels of contaminants in the waste water sent into the ponds from the Cedar Street industry.

Van Nest said the city is facing the possibility of thousands of dollars in fines levied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation if it doesn’t ensure that the ponds’ dissolved oxygen levels are within the required range.

O-At-Ka, as a result of the city’s action, already has incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased costs by having to truck waste water away from its facility and, according to Chairman of the Board John Gould, the company will not be able to sustain that expense for much longer.

The situation was made public when Gould, a dairy farmer from Pavilion, spoke during the citizen comments portion of last night’s City Council Business Meeting.

Describing O-At-Ka as “experts in waste water handling with an excellent engineering team and excellent consultants,” Gould explained that the company handles a couple billion pounds of milk every year.

“We’re committed to sustainable waste water handling in this community,” he said. “We do that with more than words; we do it with action.”

Gould said that Upstate Niagara, a consortium of 300 farmers, owns eight plants in New York, including O-At-Ka, which employs 450 people.

Pre-Treatment Upgrades are in Sight

He advised that the company is investing $6 million to upgrade its waste water pre-treatment facility, with expectations that it will be online in December. He then talked about the hardship that the restriction has created, and called for a “collaborative solution (with) no stonewalling.”

“We need a win-win situation here. We’re committed to this city and we expect that you’re committed to us,” he said.

Gould said the company complied with the city management’s request in August to restrict its flow in order for crews to complete the air header project at the waste water treatment plant.

“The result of that was a 14-day shutdown of O-At-Ka’s discharge. We had to haul waste water away from the plant at a cost of a half million dollars for O-At-Ka,” he said. “We paid overtime for the employees so we could cut that time from 14 to 11 days. That was our commitment in August.

“In September, we were called in and, again, we’re on a restricted level of discharge to the city and it’s costing us between $20,000 to $50,000 a day, every day. We don’t take Sunday off. At the current rate, we’ll easily be spending $1 million hauling waste away from our plant that used to be accepted by the city – no problem.”

While Gould said he was “confident” that a solution could be found by sitting down with the city and the DEC, he added that O-At-Ka officials would have to “make drastic decisions” should the city “continues on this path.”

Pointed Questions to the City

“I certainly don’t want to have to furlough workers or reduce business,” he said. “I’ve got to ask, What is the city’s vision of the future here if this is the way you treat your best and largest business in the city? Where are we going? How are you going to support new business? What does the future look like to you folks?”

Gould concluded his 4 ½ minutes at the podium by saying, “I encourage you to get together with us. Let’s sit down and figure this out.”

Van Nest spent twice as long responding to Gould’s concerns, clearly articulating the city’s position that it has to do what is in the best interests of the functionality of the waste water treatment plant and – because of the financial ramifications – what is in the best interest of city taxpayers.

The soft-spoken attorney seized the opportunity to review developments stemming from the $1 million air header project that was completed in late August – well ahead of the schedule due to the deteriorating condition of the apparatus. The venture was moved up because the city had been getting numerous complaints from residents about the odors coming from the plant.

“Those complaints have been made to the city, made to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), made to the DEC,” he said. “The city has worked very closely with its engineers, with in-house staff … to address replacement of the air header system at the ponds, so the ponds and the waste water treatment plant function properly for the community.”

Dissolved Oxygen Levels are a Problem

Speaking in technical terms, Van Nest said that dissolved oxygen levels in the ponds were decreasing as the air headers were not working to the best of their ability and as they degraded.

“At the same time, as it appears from data that the city reviewed, there were high BOD (Biochemical Oxygen Demand) loadings issued to the waste water treatment plant from O-At-Ka, which created a situation which depressed the dissolved oxygen levels that need to be in the ponds and allow them to function properly – ponds A1, A2 and A3,” he stated.

Van Nest acknowledged that O-At-Ka was asked “to cease discharging for up to a couple weeks while the one pond was taken out of service and the air header was replaced.”

“Ultimately, (the plan was) to roll back on slowly, so that the ponds and the DO recovery could take place when the air header system was ultimately turned back on to maximum ability,” he added.

Unfortunately for O-At-Ka, data collected by city staff showed that the company’s BOD and TSS (Total Suspended Solids) discharges were “well in excess” of the 300 milligram per liter level allowed through the Sewer Industrial Discharge Permit issued by the City of Batavia, Van Nest said.

As a result, the 30-acre ponds did not recover as fast as anticipated.

“They were well below the 2.0 threshold for dissolved oxygen that needs to be in place,” the city lawyer said.

DEC Issues 'Notice of Violation' to City

When the DEC realized this in late September, it sent a notice of violation to the city, looking at enforcement action through its State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (or SPDES), Van Nest advised, “because the dissolved oxygen levels were so low and they were not going to allow the ponds to function properly pursuant to the SPDES permit.”

From that point on, many conversations have taken place – both internally and with the DEC, he said.

“There were communications with the DEC relative to that notice of violation, which is a precursor … to a potential order on consent from the DEC or EPA,” he said. “The order on consent would carry with it penalties and compliance schedules, and the penalties are significant. They could be $30,000 per day per violation for an owner of a plant that is in violation.”

Within a week, the city sent the cease and desist letter to O-At-Ka, Van Nest said, “indicating that O-At-Ka should cease discharges to the extent possible and, ultimately, completely to the plant so the dissolved oxygen levels could rebound.”

Van Nest noted that action forced O-At-Ka to truck as much as 150,000 gallons of waste water to another location, while an additional amount continues to flow to the waste water treatment plant.

“City staff and engineers are monitoring the levels – the DOD levels in the pond and the discharge levels from O-At-Ka daily, sometimes twice a day,” he advised. “Right now, the ponds have still not recovered. The DO levels are climbing somewhat, but they are not back to where they need to be from an engineering standpoint for the city’s engineers to be comfortable with the circumstance to say that the ponds have recovered.”

City Attorney: Communication Lines are Open

Van Nest disagreed with the suggestion that city leaders have not reached out to O-At-Ka officials.

“I’ve been in communication with the attorney for O-At-Ka in the last 24 hours on two occasions, The technical staff for the city has been in communication with O-At-Ka’s technical staff and engineers on several instances,” he said. “Part of the issue is that O-At-Ka and the engineers keep suggesting that there are alternative available for the city’s ponds, for the waste water treatment program at the city’s ponds to recover more quickly.”

He said one of the suggestions – bringing in portable air pumps to generate more oxygen – would possibly work except that type of equipment is not available.

“To this day, two and a half to three weeks after this issue arose, we have not heard of any of these pumps being available -- any of these pumps being located in the northeast. So that solution is not something that can be implemented at this time,” he said.

He said engineers representing the city are open to other ideas, but “at this point we don’t see anything that is currently available and implementable on the timeline that these ponds need to recover on that will, in fact, meet those requirements.”

Van Nest said he understood that the situation is affecting the bottom line for O-At-Ka, but said it is the company’s responsibility to comply with the SPDES permit’s hard-and-fast rules and regulations.

“So, with all due respect, it’s a major industrial user of the city’s waste water treatment plant. But there are obligations for pre-treatment as part of that process. And having a pre-treatment plant that can meet the capabilities of a production plant is one of those elements,” he explained.

City Taxpayers Could Pay the Price

“Ultimately, it’s the city’s plant, the city’s SPDES permit and the city’s taxpayers who are at risk if the DEC issues an order of consent with violations because the plant does not operate property (due to the DO levels). From that standpoint … the city is doing and continues to do everything it possibly can.”

Van Nest responded to questions from Council members about the projected time for the problem to be rectified but stating that he would not speculate – only deal with the situation at hand.

City Manager Rachael Tabelski said O-At-Ka’s current discharge levels are within “100 either way, up or down.”

She also noted that the bad smell coming from the plant has been alleviated.

“Since we issued the cease and desist order, we have not had very high strength waste coming through the system … that I’m aware of and the smells at the central pump station have not been strong,” she said.

Tabelski said it was her opinion that high strength waste from industrial users can cause strong odors at the plant.

She then thanked O-At-Ka for its cooperation as the city works to resolve the oxygen levels at the ponds.

“I will give O-At-Ka all the credit for all the effort you are taking in a very difficult time to haul your waste and get closer to your permitted level,” she said, looking at Gould as she spoke.

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Photo at top: Milk processing at O-At-Ka Milk Products (from company website). File photo at bottom by Howard Owens: The ponds at the City of Batavia Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Comments
April 10, 2020 - 10:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in coronavirus, news, batavia, O-AT-KA Milk Products, covid-19, notify.

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Employees, and their family members, of O-AT-KA Milk Products have been expressing concern this week about how the company has responded to the outbreak of COVID-19 in our community.

In emails to The Batavian and in social media posts, both employees and family members have accused the company of making employees work even though they might have been exposed to a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.

In the past week, Genesee County has gone from 17 confirmed cases to 70 people who have tested positive for COVID-19. In that same period, surrounding rural counties have not seen a similar spike.

It's unclear how much of the more than 400-percent increase in positive cases are connected with O-AT-KA but sources have indicated as many as 20 people who work at the facility have tested positive.

O-AT-KA CEO William Schreiber declined today to answer a question about how many employees have been infected.

At the beginning of the week, the Health Department reported the first sharp increase in cases -- 10 new cases -- and the department press release said many of the cases, including a big jump in mandatory quarantines, could be attributed to one employee going to work while symptomatic.

At that time, Public Health Director Paul Pettit said, "A significant increase in the number of mandatory quarantines being reported today is due to a symptomatic person going to work at a local business."

Pettit declined to name the company then nor discuss now specific complaints from employees about O-AT-KA.

Since Monday, the Health Department has indicated that several of the people who were on mandatory quarantine as of Monday have since tested positive.

Two sources said there were two confirmed COVID-19 cases at O-AT-KA on Monday.

The specific complaints sent to The Batavian about O-AT-KA:

  • Employees with direct contact with infected coworkers have been told to report to work until they develop a fever;
  • Employees with a fever are required to produce a doctor's note for an approved absence from work;
  • Employees are told to wear masks but masks are not issued to employees;
  • Employees are encouraged to remain six feet apart but some job duties, such as training new coworkers, make that impossible.

One of the features of the virus SARS-CoV-2 is that people can be infectious before becoming symptomatic, and perhaps remain asymptomatic, and a fever is not necessarily the first symptom of illness.

During a phone call today, we asked Schreiber repeatedly to respond to these specific allegations and he declined.

He did read a prepared statement:

We have taken every precaution to protect our employees. We have followed the guidelines of every regulatory agency involved since the start of the pandemic and most importantly, as part of our response, our leadership team has worked to ensure our employees are safe and that they have the tools and resources needed to be successful.

O-AT-KA is not the only local company under scrutiny from employees. The Batavian has received emails about two other local employers, deemed essential businesses by the State of New York, that say their bosses are not taking coronavirus precautions seriously. 

One employee, who said the employees' complaints have gone to the Attorney General's Office, was specific about lack of sanitizer, personal protection gear, and inattention to social distancing.

The employee said, "With the number of people that come to work at this plant from outside counties and cities, it is only a matter of time before someone infected comes to work and it will spread like wildfire. We should be closed right now. We should be home, safe with our families until our government deems it that we are safe to go back to work."

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September 20, 2019 - 9:50am
Video Sponsor

For the 30th year in a row, the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce, along with Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Genesee County Farm Bureau, and the Soil & Water Conservation District conducted the Decision Makers Ag Tour.

The tour started off at the fairgrounds with a talk by Bill Schreiber, CEO of O-AT-KA Milk Products Co-Operative Inc. Then the group visited Autumn Moon Farm Winery, Black Creek Cidery, and Sweet Life Country Store, which included representatives from Circle B Winery.

September 11, 2018 - 10:33am
posted by Howard B. Owens in O-AT-KA Milk Products, batavia, business, news.

Press release:

O-AT-KA Milk Products, of Batavia, is proud to announce the completion of its recent 20,000- square-foot building expansion. The walls are up and the equipment is installed, but the most important piece – the people – is the final stage of the project.

The expansion, nicknamed Project Gator, is the third of its kind in the past six years and will boost O-AT-KA’s current workforce of 440 employees, as promised during the planning phase. Support from local municipalities, the Genesee County Economic Development Center and Empire State Development made the expansion a reality.

“I am so pleased to see a great hometown company like O-AT-KA continue to grow, thrive and add 40 new jobs to be filled by local residents," said Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia). "Our area is primed for growth and it makes us a stronger community to witness a commitment like this from a great homegrown company like O-AT-KA.

"New York’s agricultural industry is one of the best in the country and that is a testament to the dedicated and innovative farmers and dairy producers we have right here in Western New York. I wish O-AT-KA the best of luck and success moving forward.”

The expansion has significantly expanded O-AT-KA’s beverage capabilities and ability to meet growing customer demand. Production and packaging lines are currently undergoing thorough quality testing before full production starts early this fall.

“The work we do matters," said CEO Bill Schreiber. "We partner with our customers to create unique products while adding value to local milk. The ongoing efforts of our team have resulted in sustained growth and investment for the business, while supporting our dairy farmer owners and creating a rewarding work environment for our employees.

"New employees have an immediate opportunity to succeed and learn new skills. They also have the opportunity to grow as individuals and be part of a winning team.”

Hiring has begun, with the intention to fill 40 additional jobs immediately.

"We’ve grown by more than 150 team members since 2015. We plan to hire and train an additional 40 individuals," said Donna Maxwell, VP of Human Resources. “The work we do here serves our farmer-owners and supports local agriculture. We’re looking for people with a farmer’s work ethic; people who take pride in their work.

"As a premier employer in Western New York, we offer an outstanding compensation and benefits package along with the opportunity for career growth for those who desire it. Our Pay for Skill program allows employees who learn more to earn more. In fact, many of our employees – about 40 percent – commute from outside Genesee County because the employment package O-AT-KA has to offer -- pay, benefits and career opportunity -- just can’t be beat.”

January 11, 2018 - 10:17am
posted by Howard B. Owens in O-AT-KA Milk Products, batavia, business.

Press release:

Empire State Development (ESD) today announced that O-AT-KA Milk Products Cooperative Inc., a dairy cooperative based in Genesee County, will construct a more than 20,000-square-foot addition at its production facility.

In an effort to meet the growing demand of its customers, the cooperative will install a new retort beverage production line and install support equipment at its facility located at the corner of Cedar and Ellicott in the City of Batavia. The additional space will facilitate the addition of up to 20 new jobs; 440 jobs will be retained.

The cooperative expects to have the new line up and running sometime next fall.

Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky said,The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council is supporting the growth of food processing companies, like O-AT-KA dairy cooperative, which will be retaining hundreds of jobs and hiring additional employees to help them on their path to continued success.”

O-AT-KA’s production facility ensures there is a market for milk produced by more than 400 farms in the Western, Finger Lakes and Central New York regions.

The cooperative is majority owned by Upstate Niagara Cooperative Inc., which is headquartered in Buffalo, New York and also by Dairy Farmers of America, a cooperative with a strong presence in Central New York.

Michael Fuchs, O-AT-KA’s Chief Financial Officer and project manager said, “This project supports our continued growth and will allow us to meet growing market demands for our products.

"The support we continue to receive from ESD, GCEDC and our Board of Directors is a testament to their commitment to the livelihood of our dairy farmer owners and to our position as a leading employer in Western New York.”

Empire State Development is providing a total of up to $750,000 for the project through a Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council Grant. Genesee County Economic Development Agency also offered incentives for the enterprise. The total project cost is $34.5 million.

Supporting agribusiness is a top priority for the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and the locally designed the Finger Lakes Forward economic development plan.

Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chairs Monroe Community College President Anne Kress and Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Bob Duffy said, “The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council is committed to supporting projects that grow jobs. Agriculture is an important industry and a key driver of our regional economy.

"This expansion project will also create solid opportunities for area farmers, shaping the future of the region’s agricultural industry, helping to move the Finger Lakes forward.”

State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer said, "Agribusiness is Genesee County's number one economic driver, and growing demand for milk products produced by our local dairy farmers will help to reinforce this important industry.

"Today's announcement by O-AT-KA Milk Products will further strengthen our local economy. I commend Genesee County's largest private-sector employer for continuing to create jobs for Western New York residents."

Assemblyman Steve Hawley said, “Economic development and business expansion, especially when it comes to the dairy sector, is tremendously important to our region. I am pleased to see that not only will O-AT-KA be expanding its production, but also adding 20 new jobs to solidify itself as a top-tier producer in Western New York.

"The support of businesses and job creation at the state level benefits our entire community, and this is a prime example of our state’s agricultural sector rising to one of the best in the nation. I look forward to the continued prominence of our area’s farmers and producers and am proud to share in their success.”

Steve Hyde, president & chief executive officer of the Genesee County Economic Development Center, said, “The GCEDC is proud to assist O-AT-KA Milk Products, the largest private sector employer in Genesee County, to expand its operations. O-AT-KA is an industry leader through innovation and commitment to excellence.

"Through our collaboration with Empire State Development and the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, we are demonstrating that companies like O-AT-KA can grow and prosper in New York State.”

O-AT-KA’s name was taken from the Seneca Native Americans, and means leaving the highlands or approaching an opening. The “highlands” refers to Wyoming County, New York and the “opening” refers to the Genesee River flowing into Lake Ontario.

The cooperative opened in 1959 with only five employees and has since grown to provide employment tomore than 440 people contributing to growth in the local economy. O-AT-KA has long-term business relationships with many Fortune 500 listed manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers.

July 14, 2016 - 12:20pm

Pictured at the ribbon-cutting ceremony are, back from left: Mark Niederpruem, Warehouse manager; Dan Wolf, chairman of Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc.; Dave Nutting, VIP Structures; Front from left: Paul Battaglia, chairman of Genesee County Economic Development Center; Bill Schreiber, CEO; Michael Patterson, CFO; Larry Webster, CEO Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc.; and John Gould, chairman of O-AT-KA.

Submitted photos and press release:

O-AT-KA Milk Products is pleased to announce that it held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its newly expanded warehousing storage and material handling facility in Batavia on July 11.

In attendance were O-AT-KA’s and Upstate Niagara Cooperative’s Board of Directors; key vendors and contractors for the project; banking representatives; local business leaders and invited guests.

“Project Rubicon affords O-AT-KA the opportunity to address three key focus points of our business; namely, employee safety, product quality and operational efficiencies," said Michael Patterson, O-AT-KA’s chief financial officer. "The viability of the project was supported via our strong relationships with the community, the municipalities and our key vendors and stakeholders."

O-AT-KA’s commitment to innovation is demonstrated within the expansion which added over 235,000 square feet to its Batavia plant. A second phase of the project has been initiated to capture efficiencies and optimize material handling equipment and processes. The new facility and equipment phase of the project allows the company to meet increasing customer demand, improve global competitiveness and allow for future growth of production capabilities. The project will significantly improve upon O-AT-KA’s already high standards of safety and quality.

“The implementation of Rubicon will advance our ability to serve customers, significantly improve our competitive position and is testimony to the vision and commitment of our farmer owners,” said Chief Executive Officer Bill Schreiber.

Founded in 1959, O-AT-KA is a manufacturer and co-packer of dairy-based products and ready-to-drink shelf stable beverages and is one of Genesee County’s largest employers. It is located at the corner of Cedar and Ellicott streets.

September 10, 2015 - 12:38pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in O-AT-KA Milk Products, batavia, business, GCEDC.

oatkagroundbreakingsept102015.jpg

Officials with O-AT-KA Milk Products and Upstate Niagara Cooperative broke ground on a new warehouse expansion this morning at the company's plant off Ellicott Street, Batavia.

Participating in the top photo are Steve Hyde, Ray Cudney, Steve Golding, Bill Schreiber, Dan Wolf, John Gould, Dave Nutting and Mike Patterson. Second photo: Upstate's Board of Directors.

"This is an important day for the growth of the dairy industry in Western New York," said Wolf, a member of the cooperative's Board of Directors. "The 360 farms that I represent depend on this business and we're not going anywhere. This is our roots and we'll be here. We will continue to grow and develop here in Western New York, and (to) create jobs and so forth that go with that is critical to us."

oatkagroundbreakingsept102015-2.jpg

Press release from Finger Lakes Economic Development:

Empire State Development today announced that O-AT-KA Milk Products Cooperative, Inc., a dairy cooperative based in Batavia, will be expanding their warehouse and material handling functions at their Batavia site. O-AT-KA is majority owned by Upstate Niagara Cooperative, Inc., headquartered in Buffalo and also by Dairy Farmers of America, a cooperative with a strong presence in Central NY.

O-AT-KA helps to ensure there is a market for milk produced by more than 400 farms in the Western, Finger Lakes and Central NY regions. A new warehousing facility and equipment room will allow the cooperative to continue to grow its production and create 24 new full-time positions within three years, raising total employment to more than 350 positions.

“We consider this project to be a game changer,” said Michael Patterson, O-AT-KA’s chief financial officer. “This not only enables us to meet our immediate needs but positions O-AT-KA for growth into the future. Three factors driving this initiative are worker safety, food quality and operational efficiencies. These three legs of the stool will be the backbone supporting O-AT-KA’s continuing growth here in New York State.”

The economic support and assistance from local and state agencies were critical factors in undertaking this project. New York State, through Empire State Development, will provide a $400,000 capital grant to assist in bringing off-site warehousing back on site by building a 195,000-square-foot warehouse and a 35,000-square-foot equipment room to their existing facility.

The company will also purchase new material handling equipment and repurpose existing equipment. The new space will afford the company more efficiency, provide safety for workers, and allow for cost savings, thereby boosting their competitive edge in the market place.

The growth of on-site warehousing also enables the company to grow its production of shelf-stable, dairy-based beverages. O-AT-KA has a goal of increasing its export business by 10 percent over the next several years, which will result in approximately 25 percent of the total production being exported.

As the No. 1 manufacturing employer in Batavia, O-AT-KA strives to foster productive, long-term relationships with their employees. The cooperative, which produces dry, condensed and evaporated dairy products, was established in 1959 with five employees and has grown to 332.

“Agricultural and food processing has been identified as one of the top Finger Lakes REDC strategies,” said Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky. “The O-AT-KA project aligns with the council’s goal to optimize business retention and expansion, and support the growth of food-processing companies in the region.”

“This commitment by New York State to O-AT-KA demonstrates Governor Cuomo’s support of economic development in Upstate New York and in particular to the agribusiness industry in Genesee County,” said Paul Battaglia, chairman of the Genesee County Economic Development Center. “We look forward to continuing working with New York State on other economic development opportunities."

"O-AT-KA has played a major role in our local economy for decades. Now, expansion plans, along with 24 new jobs, will help to secure the cooperative's presence in Batavia for years to come. I commend O-AT-KA CEO Bill Schreiber for selecting Genesee County to invest and grow," said State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer.

“I am pleased to see the growth and expansion of an important Western New York agricultural staple such as O-AT-KA. As a small business and farm owner for over four decades, I realize the integral part O-AT-KA plays in New York’s dairy industry and Western New York’s economy. Having grown up in Batavia, I have seen the company grow from just a few employees to over 300 people – truly epitomizing the American dream of entrepreneurship. As lawmakers we must continue to protect small businesses such as these and take measures to grow New York’s economy,” said Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

August 14, 2015 - 10:55am
posted by Howard B. Owens in O-AT-KA Milk Products, business, GCEDC, batavia.

picsaug142015.jpg

With 344 employees, O-AT-KA Milk Products is already Genesee County's largest private employer, and CFO Michael Patterson promised the Genesee County Economic Development Center Board a taxpayer-assisted expansion will result in a workforce expanded by 21 positions.

The expansion, at a cost to O-AT-KA of $20 million, will result in greater efficiency, a product and market expansion and greater employee safety, Patterson said.

"This is a real game changer for O-AT-KA," Patterson said. "It will allow us to grow while we focus on efficiency and employee safety."

Patterson described the region as "heavy with milk," and the expansion will help O-AT-KA improve its capacity to create new products and expand into additional markets.

O-AT-KA is seeking $2.26 million in sales tax and property tax exemptions.

In making a motion to set a public hearing on O-AT-KA's application, Board Member Craig Yunker said, "This is really important to our region and our dairy industry, which is the back bone of our local economy. I don't know of a more important project."

The date of the hearing, which the board approved unanimously, has not yet been determined, but will be within the next two or three weeks so the board can vote on whether to grant the tax exemptions at its next meeting.

“This is a tremendous investment being made by one of the largest private-sector employers in Genesee County,” said GCEDC Board Chairman Paul Battaglia. “It also demonstrates a long-term commitment to our community by the company in building a state-of-the-art facility to enhance its manufacturing operations now and in the future.”

August 11, 2015 - 1:18pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCEDC, business, batavia, O-AT-KA Milk Products.

Press release:

The Board of Directors of the Genesee County Economic Development Center (GCEDC) will consider a project from O-AT-KA Milk Products at its Aug. 13 board meeting. 

O-AT-KA Milk Products plans to add 205,000 square feet of warehousing space to its manufacturing facility on the corner of Ellicott Street and Cedar Street in Batavia. The project is expected to create 21 new jobs and the capital investment is approximately $20.9 million.  

The GCEDC Board meeting is public and will take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the Innovation Zone Conference Room at MedTech Centre -- 99 MedTech Drive, Batavia, on the first floor, across from Genesee Community College.

June 12, 2015 - 2:46pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Pavilion, batavia, land use, planning, O-AT-KA Milk Products, business.

A proposed expansion of the O-AT-KA Milk Products plant at Cedar Street and Ellicott Street Road, Batavia, received a vote of approval from the County Planning Board on Thursday night.

O-AT-KA is contemplating adding a 194,543-square-foot building and a 35,279-square-foot building that will serve as warehouse space and a distribution center.

A spokesman for O-AT-KA repeated several times to reporters last night that the expansion remains a proposal at this time. There's no information available on how O-AT-KA's business might be expanding as a result of the new space.

The location of the new structures would be on the east side of the plant with vehicle access off of Ellicott Street Road.

The board recommended approval of a site plan review with recommended modifications for a stormwater pollution-prevention plan prior to final approval by the city.

Also on Thursday:

The board recommended approval of a site plan review for a 1,620-square-foot addition to the Pavilion Public Library. The expansion, which will include a new children's wing, is funded in part by a $200,000 donation from Edgar Mary Louis Hollwedel. Deborah Davis said the library is also seeking a state grant. The size of that grant could exceed $200,000.

The board recommended disapproval of a zoning map change on South Lake Road in Pavilion. Superior Plus Energy Services was seeking the change to develop a bulk storage and truck distribution center for bulk propane. The 32-acre site is currently zoned agriculture-residential and Superior Plus Energy is seeking a change to industrial. Staff's recommendation was for disapproval because the change would be inconsistent with the town's comprehensive plan and the Future Land Use Map, which plans for agriculture use or residential with minimum lot sizes of five acres.

A planned Dollar General store in Pavilion received recommended approval for its sign. The sign design presented previously by Moeller Sign Co. wasn't approved because it would have meant a sign larger than currently allowed in the zoning code. The new design complies with the code.

May 31, 2014 - 2:30pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, environment, O-AT-KA Milk Products.

O-AT-KA Milk Products was issued a notice of violation by the DEC on April 24 for chemicals and waste materials being spilled into a lagoon south of Ellicott Street.

The company is complying with all DEC demands and requirements for dealing with spills from its dairy processing plant at the corner of Cedar and Ellicott streets, said David Crisp, director of business development for O-AT-KA.

The spills were brought to the attention of the DEC by Attica resident John Volpe (pictured above), a Native American well known locally for his environmental work.

Volpe said he's concerned about the health and well being of the fish, turtles, frogs and other wildlife in the lagoon, which is part of a 110-acre wildlife refuge owned by Chapin Manufacturing. The creatures, Volpe said, are part of the chain of life.

"This is how we look at our own life," Volpe said. "These are our teachers. All of our relations means just that. They’re all of our relations. You don’t leave out a worm or an eagle or whatever. We’re supposed to watch it and we’re supposed to protect it. That’s one of our jobs as among the people who walk this earth. It should be everybody’s job."

Volpe shared documents he said show serious environmental damage to the lagoon, including photos of more than 100 dead fish and dissection photos taken of dead animals -- such as turtles, frogs and fish -- showing medical issues (Volpe emphasized several times that he and his helpers never killed any animals, but merely took for samples and evidence animals they found dead).

The DEC letter accuses O-AT-KA of violating its SPDES (State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit and three sections of environmental law.

The letter specifically accuses O-AT-KA of causing a drop in water quality standards for pH, solids and water color from spills on at least six separate occasions. The spills, according to the DEC, contained milk and/or cleaning solutions.

The letter also specifically cites a fish kill of various species April 15.

O-AT-KA was accused of discharging water that causes or contributes to conditions in violation of state code; discharging industrial waste in violation of state code; and discharging pollutants at a frequency or volume in excess of permitted standards.

The company was given until May 7 a turn over a document called "Best Management Practices" as well as a summary of response actions, investigations and corrective measures taken for each reported spill since August 2013. 

By yesterday, O-AT-KA was required to complete a facility review and submit a corrective action plan designed to prevent or minimize potential damage from future spills.

The DEC also required O-AT-KA to install a continuous recording pH meter.

Crisp said O-AT-KA has been fully compliant with the DEC's requirements, an assertion confirmed by Linda Vera, spokeswoman for the DEC in WNY. 

"O-AT-KA has taken a number of actions to mitigate and prevent additional discharges," Vera said.

Crisp said a DEC official was on hand one day recently when an alarm sounded from the new system indicating there was an increase in pH in the outflow line to the discharge pipe and the officials saw firsthand that plant workers responded immediately to correct the problem.

"It really comes down to how dedicated O-AT-KA is to the highest level of environmental protection," Crisp said. "That's why we're working with the DEC to assure O-AT-KA is in compliance with the SPDES permit."

There were two spills of milk, Vera said. One in August and another in October. She said steps were taken to prevent future spills and there have been no similar discharges since October.

"The remaining incidents were related to cleaning solution discharges," Vera said. "Action was taken after each incident to determine the source, and O-AT-KA added monitoring equipment and changed practices to mitigate the issue. During DEC's early May inspection, the probable source was identified. A deteriorated flooring in one of production areas allowed cleaning/disinfection solution to seep into a deteriorated pipe beneath floor. O-AT-KA is taking necessary actions to repair piping and floor."

It's still possible O-AT-KA could be fined for the spills, but the DEC has made no determination yet on further enforcement actions, Vera said.

One source we spoke to for this story suggested we look at the notice of violation delivered to O-AT-KA in context of how many DEC violation notices are handed out locally in a year, suggesting that there's nothing remarkable about a company getting a letter of violation.

According to the DEC's database of spills, there have been 76 incidents reported in the past 12 months in Genesee County. Eight of those have been tied to O-AT-KA, which more than any other source in the county. Only three of those spills -- where the size of the spill is known -- involve 100 gallons or more, and two of those involve O-AT-KA. Those are a spill of 125 gallons of milk product in August 2013 and 3,000 gallons of sodium hydroxide in January.

There were 48 incidents countywide reported in the prior 12 months, none involving O-AT-KA.

The series of spills has been a concern to Chapin, CEO Jim Campbell said, and company officials have met several times with O-AT-KA officials to review the measures taken to prevent future problems.

The 110-acre preserve includes nature trails available to employees and the area is teaming with wildlife, Campbell said. Andris Chapin, a family owner and chairman of the board, is keenly aware of environment issues, Campbell said, and once a year takes interested employees on a nature trail walk through the preserve. 

The company also has an environmental manager. He is Mark Volpe, who is also the plant manager and is John Volpe's brother.

Campbell said Chapin is confident O-AT-KA is responding appropriately. It's his understanding, he said, that O-AT-KA has spent more than $100,000 on preventative measures. He said O-AT-KA has recently brought in new executives with a good deal of technical experience in environmental issues.

"They've done a great job and have a great solution in place," Campbell said.

John and Mark Volpe started monitoring and measuring the Chapin's 110-acre habitat in 2008, acquiring and maintaining detailed records on the species and quality of life in the preserve.

It was through that process that John Volpe became increasingly concerned about spills from the O-AT-KA plant, which he said go back further than the August 2013 date covered by the DEC letter.

As he saw more and more environmental damage to the lagoon, he began raising concerns to the DEC, to the point, he believes, that some officials at the DEC started trying to avoid his phone calls.

In his workshop at his home in Attica, Volpe showed dozens of presentation boards displaying charts and tables documenting discharge dates, water temperatures, pH readings and photos of dissected animals and dead fish.

When Volpe found dead fish, he and his helpers photographed where each fish was found, collected them, brought them back to Attica, weighed and identified the species of each fish and photographed each one individually.

The dead fish included sunfish, bullhead and bass.

The DEC was slow to act on contamination issues at the lagoon, contends Volpe.

"Why didn’t the DEC do this and cite them sooner so maybe these fish would still be alive?" Volpe said. "This is not the first fish kill. We’ve had other fish kills."

Volpe's wife caught in a net one bass near death. It was blind, had lost all its slime and was emaciated. The Volpes have nursed it back to health. It's eating again and its eyes have cleared of the haze that covered the pupils. The fish has become more active in its tank.

The blindness and loss of slime is a result of a high pH in the water as well as sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide reaching the lagoon.

Volpe is also concerned about the water temperature in the lagoon, which he said was above 60 degrees in March (he takes the water temperature every day) and the turtles and frogs need the water below at least 50 degrees to hibernate.

There is also evidence of frogs "toxing out," Volpe said. The toxins in the water cause their legs to shoot straight out, become rigid and they can't jump. Eventually, they die.

Volpe was arrested in February and accused of illegal possession of protected turtles and birds of prey. 

The DEC had known for years and years about Volpe's conservation efforts involving wildlife, his friend and supporter Mike Bastine said during a meeting at Volpe's house. It was only after Volpe started making waves about O-AT-KA that the DEC decided to come down hard on Volpe.

"If you look at the implications from the spills that he has documented, that has a much greater impact on the environment than the violations they subjected him to," Bastine said. "Is the issue really about protecting the environment and the animals and the life around us? No, not really.

"They think if they can shut that part of his work down, he's going to go away and say, 'they beat me,' that he'll have to throw in the towel because he can't defend himself. They're hounding us saying we need a permit to hold a feather or care for turtles, but that's our responsibility and that's our custom. It's our job. It's our duty to step in an assist."

In her e-mail response to a series of questions, Vera did not respond to the accusation that Volpe has been targeted for enforcement because of his O-TA-KA complaints.

She said the DEC had been monitoring O-AT-KA independently of Volpe, but found his work helpful. 

"DEC's actions have been ongoing, and are not dependent on Mr. Volpe's findings," Vera said. "However, some of the discharges discovered by Mr. Volpe, have provided assistance in mitigating the discharges and investigating potential sources."

Volpe said he's also concerned because the lagoon sits over the Batavia's aquifer. All of the city's water is pumped from wells in the area. He thinks the contaminants could seep into the aquifer.

City Manager Jason Molino said that really isn't a concern. Even if any contaminants reached the aquifer, the city treats all of its water before it's distributed.

Molino's confident, he said, the DEC has things under control.

"We've spoken with O-AT-KA and the DEC," Molino said. "I think the DEC is aware of the situation and has responded to it and are in constant communication with O-AT-KA. Otherwise, it's outside our jurisdiction."

This photo is from Genesee County's GIS map. The photographs that comprise the map were taken in April 2013. The Chapin Lagoon is in the lower left. O-AT-KA's plant is in the upper right. There is a dirt road that Hanson Aggregates uses running from Ellicott Street. Beside it is a drainage ditch, which apparently is how runoff from O-AT-KA reaches the lagoon. We have no confirmation of what the milky white substance is in the lagoon, but there is no spill around that time period reported in the DEC database.

Sign by drainage pipe that runs under Ellicott Street to a stream that runs to the Chapin Lagoon.

One of the no trespassing signs marking the property line of Chapin's 110-acre wildlife refuge.

January 22, 2014 - 10:17am
posted by Howard B. Owens in weather, O-AT-KA Milk Products.

It's a crisp, clear morning in Batavia with a temperature of 4 degrees.

Forecasters continue to call for a prolonged period of bitter cold with a mix of snow. Saturday, there's an 80-percent chance of a snow shower with temperatures rising to a balmy 24 degrees.

Photo: The O-AT-KA Milk plant.

February 18, 2013 - 3:51pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, agriculture, O-AT-KA Milk Products.

O-AT-KA Milk Products will soon complete a $16 million expansion of its production facility in Batavia, but the potential of the expansion could be hindered, Sen. Charles Schumer said today, if Canada enacts new trade barriers to milk products.

Schumer appeared at the plant today to publicize the issue and encourage U.S. trade negotiators to make fair trade in milk products a priority.

"The $16 million expansion not just to stay status quo," Schumer said. "Their (O-AT-KA) products are in large demand. The market in Canada and the market in the U.S. are very similar. Our tastes are similar, so this is an opportunity to grow and you don’t want to stop it in its tracks. Many of the new products they’re making are booming. Again, a whole new market of 30 million extra people right nearby would be really important."

O-AT-KA employs 300 people locally and at least 16 jobs are expected to be added with the expansion. The expansion will go forward to meet growing U.S. demand for nutritious milk products, company executives said, but there won't be as many new jobs and as much opportunity if Canada cuts imports of U.S. milk products.

"O-AT-KA has been paving a path of innovation for Upstate New York for years," Schumer said. "They've been taking the milk our farmers produce and turning it into new products that consumers demand. Rolling back trade access now could rip the rug out from under O-AT-KA's grand plans."

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