WESTFIELD - North county grape processing companies are set to receive some financial relief thanks to a $2.1 million federal grant for upgrades to Westfield's wastewater treatment facility.
U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced the Economic Development Agency grant on Monday, adding that the funding will benefit Chautauqua County's grape producers and processors tremendously as they currently absorb an estimated 81 percent of waste-water treatment costs.
"This is terrific news for Chautauqua County and, in particular, businesses and residents in the Westfield area," said Vince Horrigan, county executive.
Horrigan said he sensed concern about job losses due to the cost of the necessary upgrades after visiting producers in Westfield recently.
"This grant along with other grant applications put forth to New York state will enable us to retain those important jobs and even add new jobs," he said.
Welch's, Growers Co-Op and The Wine Group Inc., formerly Mogen David, have contributed most of the funding toward maintaining the water treatment facility.
Westfield Mayor Michael VandeVelde said the plant hasn't been upgraded in nearly 40 years, and any additional costs would have hurt the ability of the processors to remain competitive.
He added that the village and grape processors share a public-private partnership.
"We certainly don't want to see anything like ConAgra again," he said, referring to the company's departure from the area and the resulting loss of more than 400 jobs. "Certainly we know how important the grape processors are to Westfield and we know because they have such a big share of our waste-water treatment plant. This is really important to us, the processors and the whole grape industry in our area."
Schumer and Gillibrand said the project could create and retain 150 jobs.
"Grape growing and processing is incredibly important to the economy of Chautauqua County and it is investments like these that can help keep the grape industry strong and growing," Schumer said. "This significant infusion of federal funds will allow the village to upgrade its facilities and avoid passing along the costs to these grape processors, while creating and retaining jobs in the process."
Gillibrand stressed that the investment was much-needed for Westfield.
"Upgrading water infrastructure is an effective way to support local businesses and attract new jobs to Chautauqua County and deliver clean drinking water to more local families," she said.
VandeVelde and Horrigan thanked Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, and Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand for their efforts.