OWASCO — The owner of Melrose Farm in Owasco was given 14 days to decide what he wants to do with a condemned building previously used to house farm workers on his property.
Monday night in Owasco Town Court, Justice Mark DiVietro gave Joe Tidd two weeks to decide to fix the building to bring it up to code or tear it down.
In February, Tidd was cited by the town of Owasco for violating building codes. The structure Tidd was using to house migrant workers who milked cows on his dairy farm did not have a permit to be built, nor was there any record of electrical inspections or certificates on file with the town. In addition, Tidd never received a certificate of occupancy for the structure. So, town code enforcement officer J. Patrick Doyle issued a cease and desist order for the property. According to the violation letter issued by the town on Feb. 7, Tidd had until March 9 to remedy the violations.
In September, an inspection of the structure by Doyle found that several migrant workers were still living in the decrepit building, though Tidd had never addressed any of the violations. As a result, Doyle condemned the property and Tidd was ordered to appear in court.
During the proceedings, Tidd admitted to the judge that he built the structure on his farm without a permit and that he never obtained a certificate of occupancy.
"We did build it without a permit, same as everything else we do up there," Tidd said. "There was no issue. Never given a thought about anything whatsoever."
Tidd indicated that he has plans to bring the building up to code. He asked Doyle, who was present in court, if he had reviewed the plans, but Doyle said he had not because Tidd had not submitted them as part of a formal application to the town.
DiVietro stressed to Tidd that no one is allowed to live in that building until it is brought up to code and the town issues a certificate of occupancy.
"You've got people living in there for years who shouldn't have been living in there and that's why you're here right now," the judge said. "Whether you go through the proper channels and make this a Taj Mahal, that's your prerogative. Until then, nobody's living there."
DiVietro said that if Tidd continues to not comply, the town could charge him up to $600 a day for every day he had been violating the orders, which the judge said was a minimum of 90 days.
"You can't let your employees live in that, OK? It's not fair to them," DiVietro said. "They're employees to you, they're people. You understand that?"
"Yeah," Tidd replied, scoffing.
The 64-year-old farmer is due back in Owasco Town Court on Oct. 8 and by that time will need to come to a decision about what he wants to do with the dwelling.
DeVietro advised Tidd if he does decide to fix up the building that he not "try to cut corners. Either do it right or don't do it at all."
"This is on your shoulders, how I proceed with this," DeVietro added.
Tidd was not represented by a lawyer during the proceedings, though indicated he may want legal counsel in the future.
In addition to the violations from the town, Tidd is also being investigated by the Cayuga County Health Department and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The health department had previously cited Tidd for not having an appropriate septic system. According to Eileen O'Connor, director of environmental health, Tidd told the department earlier this year that he had been directing human waste from the workers' building into a manure lagoon on the farm. More recently, the health department ordered Tidd to remove all plumbing fixtures from the structure or install a brand new system by Sept. 20. The department gave him about three weeks to comply with that order, O'Connor said.
During a phone interview with The Citizen Monday afternoon, O'Connor said Tidd had not complied with the department's order and that the farmer would be summoned to a board of health hearing where a hearing officer would decide on a penalty to impose for violating county sanitary code.
According to O'Connor, during a phone call with the department on Thursday, Tidd said he had not fixed or removed the plumbing fixtures, but would have it done by Tuesday. O'Connor said an inspector from the department will visit Melrose Farm on Tuesday to inspect the septic system.
The DEC had been investigating Tidd for directing human waste into the manure lagoon as well. According to intra-department emails, which The Citizen obtained from the DEC through a Freedom of Information Request, engineers from the DEC went to Melrose Farm in March and determined the farm was not mixing human septage with manure.
"The septic tank is located approximately 400 feet away ... from the new manure lagoon and based on (the) location, there are many obstructions that would make it very difficult to run a pipe from the septic tank to the manure pit," one engineer wrote in an email.
In the same email, the engineer said he spoke with another member of the Tidd family, Ed Tidd, who told him that the waste "leached into a field right in front of the migrant house and not into the manure pit."
A DEC spokesperson said Monday in an email to The Citizen that the agency is still "pursuing" Tidd for violating clean water regulations.
Tidd denied The Citizen's request for comment as he left Owasco Town Court Monday night.