MASSENA - Construction crews have been a common sight at the General Motors-Powertrain site this summer, as workers complete the demolition of the former automotive plant.
But when a backhoe showed up at the back corner of the property Thursday morning, employees there knew something was wrong.
Larry Thompson, who owns land adjacent to the GM site, entered the property and began digging into a 12-acre landfill with a backhoe in an attempt to remove it.
Mr. Thompson continued to be held Friday at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility on two felony charges of second degree criminal mischief and misdemeanor charges of second-degree reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. With bail set at $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond, Mr. Thompson is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing in Massena Town Court on Monday.
Workers at the scene, such as site manager David W. Grant, described unusual circumstances before the incident occurred.
"At approximately 8:45 a.m., I was notified by a hired contracting crew, Brandenburg, that two vehicles were observed parked on the Old State Route 37 embankment in a peculiar place. I went out to take a closer look at hat was going on," he noted in court papers.
"I saw a black pick up truck with Mohawk Security written on door, and a red truck, both vehicles were occupied by males," he noted. "The black vehicle had a guy sitting in the passenger seat with army fatigues on. I took pictures of both these trucks and left the scene."
During a meeting with supervisors later this morning, Mr. Grant was notified of a breach in the rear fence that borders the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation.
"It appeared the backhoe entered through a hinged gate that is always locked," he noted.
After traveling to the landfill, Mr. Grant said he witnessed Mr. Thompson digging with the backhoe. He also witnessed "approximately six bystanders" digitally recording the event.
"I know that this landfill, which contains contaminated materials, was capped with clay years ago and was not to be disturbed," Mr. Grant said. "From preliminary assessments, I observed that the perimeter fence was damaged ... the industrial landfill site had been breached with possible contamination present."
Daniel L. Kemp, a senior construction manager at the site, said he received a transmission from an employee that a backhoe had dumped soils into an on-site rail car. Trains have entered and exited the site throughout the summer, carting out scrap metal and other materials.
Mr. Kemp then advanced toward the landfill, and described being confronted by Mr. Thompson in his backhoe.
"As Larry was advancing toward my vehicle I could see he was mouthing the words 'move back now' repeatedly to me," he said in a statement he signed for police. "He had advanced the backhoe to within what I would guess to be one foot of the front of my vehicle."
After backing his vehicle up, Mr. Kemp said Mr. Thompson got out of the backhoe to talk to him.
"He then stated his opinion of the remedial action for the landfill and his view that the landfill had to go," Mr. Kemp said. "I told him that I understood his viewpoint but that this was not the avenue to take."
Eventually, Mr. Thompson re-entered the backhoe and continued digging, and state police arrived.
"Larry had locked himself into the cab of his backhoe and was digging for two hours before we were able to block off the open gate that Larry had entered through with a larger front end loader," Mr. Kemp said. "At that time Larry drove the backhoe through a section of the fence causing damage."
Shortly after that, state police were able to arrest Mr. Thompson and the standoff ended. Mr. Kemp was unsure of the exact cost of Thursday's incident.
"I do not know what the exact cost is going to be," he noted. "But in my personal opinion, I would believe it to be in the tens of thousands of dollars."