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Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm

County officials get high praise from executives, governor for bringing new yogurt plant to Batavia

PepsiCo and Theo Muller officials along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo praised the efforts of local leaders to convince the two international companies to locate their new yogurt plant in Batavia.

The executives, elected officials along with a host of local dignitaries gathered at the new Muller Quaker Dairy plant in the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park today for a dedication ceremony for the new plant.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, said once it was time to make a decision about the location for the plant, Batavia was an easy choice.

"I must say the Genesee County people and the governor’s office were just amazing in the way they worked with us," Nooyi said. "There was no competition. We love being here. The Genesee County people have to be given a lot of credit, the way they brought the forces of the county together to get everything expedited in such a short time. I think it is a real textbook example of how to attract investment into any community."

Stefan Muller, the CEO of the newly formed Muller Quaker Dairy company, said the day that executives traveled to the Genesee Agri-Business Park, the amount of support Genesee County lined up for the visit was impressive. There were representatives from local government and utility companies making promises on delivery of what Pepsi and Muller would need to build the project.

"I have seen 60 sites that were just locations on a map and I have seen six sites personally, but what we saw here was just outstanding," Muller said. "We were promised to get all of the permissions within weeks and we couldn’t believe it."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also praised Genesee County officials and said the effort to bring the Muller Quaker plant to Batavia is an example of how New York is open for business.

“We want business in New York," Cuomo said. "Business is the engine that drives the train, providing the jobs, providing the opportunity, providing the career ladder, providing the revenues to local governments. It’s all about making the private sector run and making the private sector run well and government partnering with that private sector. “

Yogurt, Cuomo said, is quickly becoming a big part of New York's economy -- production is up 60 percent in the past few years and there are now 49 yogurt plants in the state. He said the state is committed to ensuring the yogurt industry succeeds.

"We believe in the yogurt story and we’ve invested in the yogurt story," Cuomo said. "It is a big, big business in the State of New York."

He announced an Aug. 15 summit of leaders in the yogurt industry and dairy leaders to help facilitate, he said, the two groups working together to grow the yogurt industry.

"We want this business to do well," Cuomo said. "We want this business to thrive and we want this business to thrive in the State of New York."

Pepsi is committed to growing in the nutritional food categories, and dairy in particular, Nooyi said.

"Dairy products are a $500 billion industry that is expected to grow rapidly in the high single digits," Nooyi said. "We believe that here in the United States the growth potential for dairy is virtually unlimited."

The yogurt market, she said, is "largely untapped." The per-capita consumption of yogurt in the U.S. is half what it is in many other countries."

Muller said the new product is sweeter than what Theo Muller makes in Germany to meet U.S. consumer expectations and Nooyi praised the new yogurt.

"The Muller Quaker Dairy line is going to bring a whole new taste experience to America that’s not like anything that’s available in the country today," Nooyi said. "Try it and you’ll see that it’s more rich than any other yogurt you've tasted.

"It’s creamier. It’s more delicious. It doesn’t have any chalky aftertaste. It's really something you’ll enjoy eating day in and day out, maybe even three or four times a day."

Muller said the online feedback on the new product has been fun to read.

"I read on the Internet, on a blog, one consumer was writing, she tried the product two weeks ago and she is writing it is insanely delicious," Muller said. "This was really, I think, the right comment."

Both chief executives praised their new business partner as the perfect fit for how each company would like to grow.

"I have to say it was good and smart that we took the time because we found the right partner with PepsiCo and the yogurt market is booming," Muller said. "It’s still a very small market compared to other countries and we have products which are very unique and are really outstanding for the American market."

Nooyi said Pepsi has the distribution system to get the new product onto store shelves throughout the United States.

She also said the two companies share a core value in being committed to their local communities.

"One of the reasons this is a great partnership is both companies are committed to growing our businesses and both are committed to growing our local communities," Nooyi said. "When this plant is complete next year, it will be one of the largest yogurt plants in the United States. It’s going to source largely from New York State dairy farmers and other quality suppliers around this great region. The best part is it will create 186 local jobs next year."

Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Bicyclist down at Ellicott and Hutchins

post by Billie Owens in batavia, accidents

A bicyclist was struck, how is not clear, but he is conscious. This happened at Ellicott and Hutchins streets in the city. City fire is responding along with police and a medic.

UPDATE 12:56 p.m.: City fire is back in service. Apparently, everything's OK.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Legislators approve funding for replacement of Lyon Street Bridge

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, infrastructure, Lyon Street Bridge

County legislators OK'd a $1.659 million project to replace the Lyon Street Bridge over the Tonawanda Creek on Wednesday, with a majority of the funding coming from a federal grant.

The resolution passed by the Ways and Means Committee authorizes the county to accept reimbursement for 80 percent of the project, which is scheduled to begin construction in 2015.

The county's share of the project will be $331,800 and be paid for from anticipated sales-tax revenue.

The design phase of the project is expected to cost $95,000. The local share of that expense will be $19,000.

According to New York Bridges Are Falling Down, the steel deck bridge was built in 1910 and is rated at 4.875 (on a scale of 1-7), putting it in the "dangerous" category.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Moody's gives thumbs up to city's improving financial picture

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia

The City of Batavia's financial health is looking a lot better, according to Moody's Investor Services.

The bond-rating agency recently upgraded the city to A1, which not only makes it cheaper for the city to borrow money, if needed, but it's also a vote of confidence and affirmation that the city's financial outlook is improving, City Manager Jason Molino said.

"Moody's bond-rating agency downgraded the city in 2005 and the upgrade says we're on the right path," Molino said.

From the upgrade memo:

Moody's expects the city's financial position to improve as of the close of fiscal 2012 given the city's practice of conservative budgeting of both revenues and expenditures. In previous years, the city had failed to maintain a balanced budget and accumulated a General Fund balance deficit, topping $1 million at the close of fiscal 2007, necessitating several years of issuing revenue anticipation notes. A new management team came in and generated four consecutive years of operating surpluses through conservative budgeting, increasing revenues and controlling expenditures.

Last fall, Moody's issued a "positive outlook" report for the city, but did not upgrade the bond rating.

Moody's said the city's strengths are management's ability to restore fiscal health and Batavia's proximity to employment centers.

The city's weakness is "Limited tax base with below-average wealth levels."

In order for the city's rating to go up even further, the city must improve reserves and liquidity and increase the city's socio-economic profile.

The rating could be hurt if the fund balance declines and the city's socio-economic profile declines.

Batavia's median family income is 74.4 percent that of the rest of New York, a ranking Moody's believes needs to improve.

While the city currently carries $7.5 million in debt, Moody's found this amount modest compared to property value of $535.8 million and overall annual revenue.

Moody's anticipates the city's average direct debt burden of 2.0 percent of full valuation to remain stable given the absence of major borrowing plans. Debt service is modest, accounting for 5.1 percent of fiscal 2011 expenditures. No borrowing is expected over the next two years.

"This lays the foundation for us to earn some of the trust back from the public," Molino said. "What's happened over the past several years, because of the finances, that's been lost a little bit. This builds on what it's going to take to stabilize our local economy over the long term."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Three inches of rain in two hours on Batavia may be a 100-year-flood event

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, weather

Batavia may have experienced yesterday what is known as a 100-year-flood event.

The data is still being evaluated, it appears that within a two-hour period 3 inches of rain fell on Batavia and parts of Le Roy and Darien.

The city's infrastructure held up pretty well under the circumstances, said City Manager Jason Molino.

"That's a small time frame for that amount of volume," Molino said. "You've got to understand that sanitary and sewer systems are not designed to handle that kind of volume."

He said everything worked as it should.

"There were no failures in the system," Molino said. "There were no collapses and no malfunctions. The water pretty much dissipated within 30 minutes (of the rain stopping)."

A couple of dozen property owners, at least, reported flooded basements or flood-related damage.

Residents who witnessed water cascading into their basements may not feel like the system worked as it should, and Molino sympathized and said when your's is the place being flooded "it's tough to understand" that a combination of location (in a flood plain) and heavy localized rain is something no municipal drainage system is designed to handle.

Tim Yaeger, emergency management coordinator for Genesee County, said that such relatively few reports of damage in Batavia may mean that the county can't qualify for an emergency designation that would free up funding for financial help for property owners. But perhaps if the storm damage is grouped in with damage to Elmira and other parts of the Southern Tier last week, an emergency designation might be possible, he said.

If you suffered property damage, Molino said, you should contact your insurance company, but you can also contact the city manager's office to ensure the damage is counted in any reports sent to the state or federal government.

Yaeger cautioned against "false hope" of an emergency designation because "it's a very high threshold to meet."

The map shows rain total estimates for the hours of 4 to 6 p.m. Pink is 2+ inches and blue is 3 inches.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 12:29 am

Photo: Sunset after the storm off Harvester Avenue

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Harvester Avenue, Harvester Center, photos, weather

With things winding down from the storm this evening, I drove down Harvester Avenue and spotted this long puddle next to the railroad tracks and thought "that might be pretty interesting come sunset time." So at dusk, I drove back and made this photo.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Photos: Heavy rains bring localized flooding to Batavia

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, weather

Patches of flooding were reported throughout Batavia this afternoon after a heavy thunderstorm passed through the area starting at about 3 p.m., with the heaviest rains falling between 5 and 6 p.m.

Cars got stuck in underpasses, basements were flooded, and children found the biggest puddles of their lives to splash around in.

No injuries were reported as a result of the strong storm.

Floodwaters receded quickly once the rain slowed to a drizzle.

Top photo, a car stuck under the train bridge on Cedar Street.

Liberty Street between Ellicott and Main.

Tree limb down on power lines on Harvester Avenue, early in the storm.

Close up of the vehicle on Cedar Street.

Vehicle under the train bridge on Ellicott Street.

Some children on Vine Street had a great time with the flooding. Their parents said earlier Vine was heavily flooded, as the waters receded the children stood next to what was left of the puddle and waited for cars to come past and splash water on them.

A resident on Tracy Avenue invited me to see their flooded backyard.

A vehicle on Tracy Avenue.

More photos after the jump (click on the headline):

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Reader photos of the Flood of 2012

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Le Roy, weather

Almost as soon as the first reports of flooding came in I started getting texts and emails from readers of pictures they were taking. Of course, by this time, I was out taking my own photos, which I'll post later.

We also requested photos in our breaking news post on the storm.

Here are the photos we received so far. If you have any, email them to howard at the batavian dot com (of course, turn that into a properly formatted email address). If you have video, upload it to YouTube and email me the URL of the published video and we can post that, too. Get your photos in soon because we won't keep adding them indefinitely.

Above, photo of the Lehigh Avenue underpass from Greg Emerson.

Route 5 underpass, Le Roy, from Mary Margaret Ripley.

From Matt Hendershott, vehicle stuck under the bridge on Cedar Street.

From Tina Heartgrove, Spencer Court.

From Frank Bellucci, vehicle stuck under train bridge on Ellicott Street.

From Kyle Couchman, Swan Street.

Video from Jamie.

More photos after the jump (click on the headline):

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Photo: Firefighters' T-shirts for breast cancer awareness

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Batavia Firefighters Association, City Fire

For the third straight year, City of Batavia firefighters are wearing special T-shirts for two weeks to promote breast cancer awareness.

Starting Friday, residents will be able to stop by the fire hall on Evans Street and purchase special T-shirts (not quite like the firefighters are wearing in the photo above, and with the logo in the inset photo) for $10 each. Proceeds benefit Genesee County Cancer Assistance.

Jeff Whitcombe, who is organizing the effort said he's had a sister-in-law who had breast cancer a year ago (and is cancer free now) and the annual event began two years ago when the wife of a firefighter developed breast cancer.

"It can strike anybody," Whitcombe said. "The guys here have mothers, wives or significant others, and it hits home when that happens."

Pictured are, from left, Jeff Whitcombe, Lt. Mark Mikolajczyk, Bob Fix, president of the Batavia Firefighters Association, which is the sponsor of the event, Chief Jim Maxwell, Chuck Harmmon, Ryan Hendershott, Mike Dorgan and Dave Green.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Law and Order: Batavia man accused of resisting arrest, threatening officers

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, elba

Stephen A. Lewis, 32, of 130 W. Main St., Apt. A, Batavia, is charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and harassment, 2nd. Lewis was arrested following a report at 3:45 p.m., Friday, of two men arguing, with one of them possibly carrying a baseball bat, at East Main and Summit streets. According to Batavia PD, when a patrol officer attempted to interview Lewis, Lewis became irate and yelled obscenities. He continued, according to police, even after being warned to stop yelling and clean up his language. Lewis was placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct. Lewis struggled with officers. Once taken into custody by officers Eric Hill and Kevin DeFelice, Lewis was arraigned at city court and jailed on $1,000 bail. On the way to jail, Lewis allegedly threatened to kill Batavia PD officers, leading to the harassment, 2nd, charge. (Initial Report)

George M. Hodges, 22, of 9 Pringle Ave., lower, Batavia, is charged with disorderly conduct. Batavia PD officers responded to 9 Pringle Ave. at 11:46 p.m., Saturday, to investigate the report of a property dispute. While Officer Frank Klimjack was on scene, Hodges was allegedly irate and yelled obscenities. Klimjack reportedly warned Hodges to calm down, but Hodges allegedly continued yelling obscenities.

Brodes J. Gibson, 51, of 13 Thorpe St., Batavia, is charged with two counts of petit larceny. Gibson is accused of entering the Kwik Fill at 99 Jackson St. on two occasions and stealing two 18 packs of beer.

Joel S. Shelhorse, 24, of 23 West Ave., Elba, is charged with DWI, consumption of alcohol in a motor vehicle, operating in violation of a restricted use license, aggravated unlicensed operation and opening a vehicle door interfering with traffic. Shelhorse was taken into custody following a report at 8:46 a.m., Sunday, of a male and female arguing on South Main Street.

David A. Kendall, 40, of 215 Bank St., Batavia, is charged with trespass. Kendall is accused of entering a neighbor's property at 4:45 p.m., July 21, without permission.

David M. Smith, 26, of Pavilion, is charged with criminal possession of a weapon, 4th. Smith was arrested by State Police following an incident reported at 10:20 p.m., Sunday, in Darien. No further details released.

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