News10NBC Investigates: Hundreds of contractors impacted by halted Li-Cycle project

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The sudden work stoppage at the Li-Cycle hub in Rochester is impacting hundreds of tradespeople in our region. On Monday, the lithium battery recycler halted work on a $700 million expansion at the Eastman Business Park. LI-Cycle says rising construction costs led it to stop the project while it does a full review of its finances.

More than 200 contractors who had been working at the 68-acre site showed up Monday morning but were locked out of the property and told to go home.

Grant Malone is the president of the Rochester Building and Construction Trades Council. He represents 18 different construction trades that have, or had, 200 tradespeople working at Li-Cycle.

“I’ve overseen a lot of large projects here in Rochester. and this is the first time it came to an abrupt halt like this,” he tells News10NBC.

Malone has spent a lot of time on the phone over the last few days. “We’ve had assurances from Li-Cycle themselves that this is just a delay, they want to take a pause and look at where they are financially and they want to make sure that they’re on the right track,” he says.

But, the workers can’t just wait around. “I’ve been very clear with Li-Cycle that when they do get started again, we’ll do the best we can to get some of the people back but they won’t get them all back but that’s how our industry works,” says Malone, “Most of our members work seasonal, so, they’ve gotta make their money when the sun is shining.”

Li-Cycle claims the project has been halted due to increasing construction costs, but it celebrated the expansion in February of 2023 when it was awarded a $375 million federal loan from the U.S. Energy Department and there was no indication of trouble.

Federal lawmakers say the loan has not yet been dispersed. Local leaders say tax incentives scheduled for the property do not go into effect until the project is complete and at least 100 people have been hired.
While there is no doubt construction costs are higher, rising prices are not a new issue and according to both the county and the trade unions, it hasn’t stopped other companies from moving forward with planned projects.

“We heard the same thing a couple of years ago during the pandemic when interest rates started rising across the county — we were told to expect a slow down in construction, and we haven’t seen that here,” says Monroe County Executive Adam Bello. In fact, it’s been the opposite: “There has been an enormous amount of investment in this county, whether it’s Plug Power, Amazon, Fairlife is coming; we have municipal projects that are underway whether it’s at Innovative Field, the City of Rochester has work, there’s an incredible amount of work happening on the construction industry here,” Bello adds.

For now, the contractors who were working at Li-Cycle will have to rely on that other work to pay the bills.

“We’ll make it work — moving through the holidays might be a little rough but we get through the holidays and they get back up and running; I’m really optimistic that we’ll go back to work and it’ll turn out fine over there,” Malone says.

Li-Cycle tells News10NBC it will have an update on the future of its Rochester hub during the second week of November, after it has completed a full review of the project.