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Utica residents defeat proposed asphalt plant

Payne Horning

The Utica Common Council has rejected a plan to build an asphalt plant on the north side of the city that many residents said threatened the community's progress. 

At a standing-room only meeting at Utica city hall Wednesday night, the restless crowd waited for the committee meeting to end ahead of the full council session.

Impatience eventually boiled over after they got wind that the council was considering tabling the vote on the sale of the property. So, they stormed into the adjacent room where the council committee meeting was taking place.

"If this was a good idea, people wouldn't be so upset," one angry resident yelled.

"Tell the people you don't want to vote," another shouted.

Business owners and residents feared that the plant would emit smells and toxins that could extinguish any future development in the area. Roxanne Roser said the sales tax revenue was not worth those risks.

"This is not the right place for this plant," Roser said. "There's got to be somewhere better, but right there in the middle of our harbor north corridor that everyone has been working on so heavily to try to develop and have [been] dumping a lot of money -- if you see the hotels and restaurants -- it is asinine to vote yes on this thing!"

Some councilors like Bill Phillips did not want to vote on the project until after a state environmental study could be completed to address the concerns. But mounting pressure from the public and a couple of councilors eventually forced a vote. It was rejected 6-2.

Phillips said the project, which was expected to support 30 jobs and garner more than $100,000 annually in taxes for the city, was a missed opportunity for economic development.

"That area was always industrial area and it still is, so I thought that - we have to grow revenue," Phillips said. "We can't continue to not grow our tax base and I thought, basically, that was a good fit."

But the Utica residents present, like Ray Crossley, thought North Utica dodged a potential environmental incident.  

"After all we've heard from Hoosick Falls and Love Canal in our own state, we don't need it here in Utica," Crossley said. "We are finally on a positive turn. We can't have it messed up by a plant that is going to be spewing out potential cancerous carcinogens."

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.