Stonington discusses cost of mill demolition

Stonington — As the demolition of the former Connecticut Casting Mill in Pawcatuck was completed Wednesday afternoon, town officials met to discuss how best to clean up the contaminated site and how to pay for it.

At the joint meeting of the finance board and selectmen, it was revealed that a company has an agreement to buy the site from current owner Pawcatuck Landing LLC for $1, but no transfer of property has yet taken place.

Because of this, town officials have been trying to deal with the current owner, who they say has not returned more than a dozen calls since the dilapidated mill began to collapse after a lighting strike and heavy rain early Monday.

The imminent collapse of the structure forced the town to quickly hire the firm that had just finished demolishing a portion of the Harris Graphics building on Mechanic Street to tear down the mill before more of it could tumble into the adjacent Pawcatuck River, which could have created a flooding threat and sent contaminated dust into nearby neighborhoods in Pawcatuck and Westerly.

Now the town has to test all the debris for PCBs and other contamination and have it trucked to a disposal site in Ohio that accepts the asbestos present in the debris.

The finance board did approve spending $125,000 to pay Ocean Trace Demolition of Watertown, the firm that demolished the mill. It is expected to cost at least another $475,000 to truck the debris away after it is tested but that cost could rise if PCBs and other contaminants are found and need to be taken to a different facility using different transport methods. Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns told the board that he believes the PCBs had been removed from the building in a past cleanup. Efforts are being made with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to determine whether that is the case.

The town will have to seek residents' approval to spend money for the disposal, as it exceeds the amount the Board of Finance can appropriate on its own.

The finance board also agreed Wednesday to pay up to $15,000 to a firm doing testing of the debris and air. The police department also has spent $3,000 to $5,000 so far on overtime to secure the Stillman Avenue site.

Before they make any further financial decisions, finance board members Wednesday asked First Selectman Rob Simmons and town officials to provide them with information about a host of issues, such as the results of testing and how that will affect the cost of debris disposal, hiring a project manager to protect the town’s interests, details about the ownership and title of the property, whether the town can go after the assets of the owner and whether the state or the town’s insurance carrier could help offset the cost of the cleanup.

There are 55 liens that have been placed on the property and Pawcatuck Landing LLC owes the town $27,900 in blight violation fines. In addition, Director of Planning Jason Vincent said it would cost an estimated $1 million to clean up ground contamination on the site.

Pawcatuck resident Ashley Gillece questioned town officials at Wednesday’s meeting about why they did not work to instead stabilize the mill and not demolish after learning about the purchase and sales agreement. She said the demolition will affect the new owner's ability to put it back on the tax rolls. She also questioned why the town did not seek competitive bids for the demolition and not hire a local firm. Town officials say they had to act quickly to prevent the entire collapse of the building.

“My goal has been to move safely, expeditiously and responsibly to protect the public health and safety as well as a Wild and Scenic river,” Simmons said, referring to the new federal designation of the Pawcatuck River.

Gillece also criticized town officials for spending money and not providing residents with a full explanation of the costs of the work.

Simmons commended the many town employees who he said have worked on the mill collapse since early Monday morning. Burns and his firefighters have been there since the initial collapse, ensuring the safety of the site and spraying water on the debris pile.

Simmons said that he now is looking at what the site can become for the residents of Stonington and Westerly in the future. He also announced that, while some residents have expressed interest in acquiring bricks from the remnants of the mill, that will not be allowed due to possible contamination.

j.wojtas@theday.com 

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