The town of Hinesburg is facing an uncertain future after the Saputo Cheese Factory announced it will not reopen. Select Board members held an emergency meeting, Wednesday evening, to discuss what the closure means for the town revenue and plans to upgrade the town's wastewater treatment plant.
Residents are set to vote on a Nov. 4 ballot measure asking voters to approve a bond to upgrade and expand the town's wastewater treatment facility. The expansion is needed because of the factory and the bond would be repaid in part by the factory. Without operations continuing at the factory, town leaders are unsure of the expansion is needed or affordable.
"We don't understand really what will happen to the revenue stream," said Select Board Chairman Jonathan Trefry.
Part of the problem is that the Montreal-based Saputo has not yet told the town what it plans to do with the property. Town Administrator Jeanne Wilson told the Select Board that she specifically asked Saputo if it plans to sell the property and if it has a buyer lined up.
"I did not get an answer to that," she said.
Saputo did say it is working first to take care of its employees. Eighty full-time employees have been offered jobs at other Saputo plants.
"I think it's a tragedy, it really is," said Charlotte resident, Amy Enos, upon hearing news of the closing. "A lot of people from this town depended on Saputo for employment and I really hope that these people can make it through this tough time."
Saputo says it was already thinking about closing the plant before the fire caused millions of dollars in damage. The company also mentioned today that it received a bill for $542,000 for firefighting and hazmat services. The town wonders if that bill is the straw that broke the camel's back and finalized the decision for Saputo.
Wilson spent much of Wednesday on the phone trying to figure out a future for the plant. The Vermont Department of Agriculture told her it is asking other dairy processors if they are interested in buying the facility. Wilson also spoke with several other companies that have previously expressed interest in moving to Hinesburg.
"It's an important piece of real estate in the center of a village in Chittenden County and I think there could be a lot of interest," said Trefry of the property.
It's not the long-term future this town is worried about but the short term as 80 people look for new jobs, and the local government tries to operate with uncertain revenues.