STONINGTON — Citing health and safety concerns following a roof collapse early Monday morning, officials are moving forward with plans to raze the old Connecticut Castings mill to prevent the building from falling into the Pawcatuck River.
First Selectman Rob Simmons said an overnight roof collapse at the 75 Stillman Ave. mill presented “a very serious health and safety hazard” that would require the immediate removal of the building. Portions of Stillman Avenue will remain closed while demolition work is completed, he said.
“The building has deteriorated further throughout the course of the day,” Simmons said Monday afternoon. “We simply cannot afford for the building to collapse into the Pawcatuck River, which recently was designated as ‘Wild and Scenic.’ The damage from such a collapse would be damaging to both the river and surrounding communities.”
The 171-year-old building, which is owned by Pawcatuck Landing LLC and co-owned by L&M LLC, according to the town’s property records, sustained the damage in early morning storms that included heavy rains, police and fire officials confirmed. It was reported by a passing motorist. No one was present when the collapse occurred and no injuries were reported.
Messages left with Stonington Police Lt. Bryan Schneider and Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns were not returned.
Following reports of the collapse, officials closed several roads as a precaution. Detours were in place along Stillman Avenue at Hyde Street, all of Arch Street was closed, and Stillman Avenue Extension was closed south of Vine Street.
Westerly police had also closed off access to the bridge, Westerly Police Capt. Steven Johnson said. He referred all other questions to Stonington officials.
According to Simmons, the state Department of Public Health was notified Monday morning after the collapse was reported to Stonington officials by the motorist. Due to the dangers presented by the building and the negative environmental impact of the building collapsing into the river, Supervising Environmental Analyst Stephen P. Dahlem granted the Alternative Work Practices application for immediate removal.
The town made multiple unsuccessful attempts to contact owners before a decision was made to remediate the issue without them, Simmons said. He said ownership has not replied to town correspondence in recent years and that the owners remain more than three years behind on taxes.
“After reviewing the options, the decision has been made to complete the demolition of the building for several reasons, including addressing public health and safety issues that could result from the continued naturally-occurring collapse,” Simmons said.
Staff with Ocean Trace Demolition & Hauling, the company that recently removed a large, wooden 4-story building on Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck, had arrived at the site as of 5 p.m. and owner Frank Lukos said the company had reached an agreement with the town to remove the building in full as quickly as possible.
Lukos said work would begin Monday evening to get equipment ready and stabilize the building for proper demolition. The firm was using a drone Monday evening to provide aerial footage of the site in an effort to better plan for demolition without causing any further impact.
“Our equipment is on the way now,” Lukos said in a phone interview around 5 p.m. “We have been contracted for full removal of the building and expect the majority of that work to begin first thing (Tuesday).”
Simmons, who did not identify the company because the town was in negotiations, indicated that a complete demolition would cost in the range of $600,000. He noted work will begin immediately due to the emergency nature of the project, but said eventually the Board of Finance would be tasked with determining how to pay for the project.
A lot remains uncertain, including exactly how long the demolition of the building would take and the impact it could have on surrounding neighborhoods, but Simmons said residents should avoid the area and expect delays and detours for “at least 24 to 48 hours.”
“As far as I’m concerned, the sooner we can address this issue, the better,” Simmons said.