COOPERSTOWN -- Otsego County officials are delving into complaints from South Edmeston residents who said they believe expansion at the Agro Farma plant in nearby Chenango County -- where Chobani yogurt is produced -- has left them with inadequate well water.
Otsego County Planner Terry Bliss said he will today brief the Solid Waste and Environmental Concerns Committee, an offshoot of the county Board of Representatives, on the complaints that were recently brought to his attention.
Residents said at least eight homes in the hamlet have experienced serious water pressure and water availability problems. These houses are about two-tenths of a mile away from the Agro Farma complex that sits on Chenango County Route 25.
"Our water table was working fine for 55 years until they started moving earth around over there at Chobani," said South Edmeston resident Dale Brownell. He noted a house owned by his mother, Bernice Brownell, and occupied by his sister, Connie Holt, was without water for eight days last month. He said his mother had to pay about $1,000 to have a new well pump and new and deeper well pipe installed.
Brownell said the family was told by an Agro Farma representative that the company could not have been responsible for the water table problems because the South Edmeston houses are just east of the Unadilla River, while the yogurt factory is just west of the river. The houses that have been experiencing well problems are on Otsego County Route 20 -- the same road that becomes Chenango County Route 25 on the west side of the Unadilla River.
Brent Bauman, a hydrogeologist with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), has been apprised of the South Edmeston complaints by Scott Fickbohm, executive director of the Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District.
In a Jan. 26 email to Fickbohm, Bauman noted that a possible link between the well problems and Chobani's water usage is "not out of the question."
However, he pointed out that "we simply don't have sufficient data" to determine if the plant is actually responsible for the water problems reported by some South Edmeston residents.
Contacted by The Daily Star, Agro Farma spokeswoman Kelly Lacorte said she could not release a statement on behalf of the company until it was approved by her supervisors. Until then, she said, she has no other comment.
Dale Brownell said his mother received a notice from Agro Farma in October, indicating that the company has filed an application with the SRBC in September for approval to withdraw more than 1.1 million gallons of water a day from three wells at its plant in the town of Columbus in Chenango County.
The notice stated: "The water will be used for plant sanitation procedures, potable water supply for plant personnel, cooking systems and standby fire protection related to plant operations producing the Chobani brand of Greek yogurt."
Connie Holt said she is worried the water pressure problems will recur if the Chobani plant continues to increase the amount of local water it uses for its operations. She said the water pressure remains low in the bathroom of the home, even with the new pump installed.
"They never offered us water for the eight days we went without it," she said. "I can't take a bath in yogurt."
The complaints from South Edmeston were brought to the attention of the Otsego County planning department by Rep Betty Anne Schwerd, R-Burlington, Bliss said.