Stonington looks at possibility of taking over abandoned mill

The Town of Stonington is looking to explore its options for cleaning up the abandoned Connecticut Casting Mill on Stillman Avenue in Pawcatuck, seen Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (Joe Wojtas/The Day)
The Town of Stonington is looking to explore its options for cleaning up the abandoned Connecticut Casting Mill on Stillman Avenue in Pawcatuck, seen Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018. (Joe Wojtas/The Day)

Stonington — The town is beginning to investigate the possibility of taking control of the abandoned Connecticut Casting Mill in Pawcatuck and cleaning up the contaminated site.

Director of Planning Jason Vincent said this week that a community forum has been slated for 6 p.m. Sept. 5 at the Pawcatuck firehouse to listen to comments from residents about the Stillman Avenue property and discuss what would have to be done to make it less of a hazard to the community and more attractive for reuse.

In 2005, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a plan by a Worcester, Mass., redevelopment firm to build 15 condominiums in the existing 18,000-square-foot, four-story brick mill at the north end of the site along the Pawcatuck River. An additional 24 units would have been located in two new buildings.

Those plans never came to fruition, and current owner Pawcatuck Landing has been unable to line up money for environmental cleanup of the PCB, lead, mercury and other industrial contamination on the 1.2-acre site.

In January 2011, the roof of the southern portion of the mill collapsed, which the town said created an unsafe situation. The town took Pawcatuck Landing to court to force it to tear down that portion of the building after the company delayed doing the work. The company then agreed to repair the damage.

Today, the site is overgrown and the building is in serious disrepair. While a fence surrounds the site, a large hole has been cut in one section and the fence can easily be scaled in other areas. For years there's been evidence that people have been trespassing in the building.

Vincent said Wednesday that the ownership group has dissolved over time, is not paying taxes or maintaining the property and is not returning his phone calls. He said liens on the property, demands to make repairs and blight enforcement efforts by town all have been ineffective.

"It's a problem and there is zero percent chance it's going away," Vincent added.

A study done 11 years ago found that it would cost $1 million to clean up the contamination. That cost would be in addition to the cost of demolition and redevelopment.

Vincent said he’d like the town to get an updated assessment of the cleanup and demolition costs to help determine the risk and benefits to the town of foreclosing on the property and doing the work to improve safety and make it more attractive for development.

Selectman John Prue said the town has a moral obligation to keep the property in a safe condition.

Vincent said the only entity that has a claim to the property is the town, which is currently owed 2½ years of back taxes totaling $6,535. The town tried to auction off the property at a tax sale in April but no one bid on it. Vincent said the current condition of the property and the small site make it difficult for a developer to turn a profit on a project. Thus, the lack of interest at the tax sale.

Word of the effort comes at the same time the Board of Selectmen considers a proposal that calls for the town to knock down the remainder of the blighted Campbell Grain Building and then cover the cost by placing a $40,000 lien on the property. It is expected that removing the building would help the out-of-state owner sell the site so it can become part of the revitalization of downtown Pawcatuck. In addition, town officials and Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns have expressed concerns that much like the casting mill, the grain building is a fire hazard and attractive to trespassers.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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