STONINGTON — The removal of demolition materials from the old Connecticut Casting Mill on Stillman Avenue has taken longer than officials had hoped, but the process is nearing completion and the town has done the work at a lower cost than it initially anticipated.
First Selectman Rob Simmons and Selectman John Prue each said Monday that the town is entering the final stages of the debris removal at the site, with six truckloads scheduled to be taken to an off-site location each day through Wednesday, which would bring the amount of debris remaining on the site to less than 10 truckloads.
Workers were also hand-picking bricks, metals and wood from the Pawcatuck River on Monday afternoon, a tedious process that is necessary in order to prevent disturbing the land or contaminating the river with potential environmental hazards.
“There’s no doubt that this has taken longer than anybody wanted it to,” said Prue, a Pawcatuck resident who Simmons said has taken the lead in providing valuable oversight as an elected official. “It has been a matter of finding alternative options while staying within the regulatory box, and providing proper oversight of our finances.”
The good news for taxpayers is that while the demolition and removal process has lasted considerably longer and been more tedious than first anticipated, the total cost for the first two phases of site cleanup could be less expensive than first thought.
The mill at 75 Stillman Ave., on the west bank of the Pawcatuck River, has been vacant for years. An April 15 storm caused a partial roof collapse, and the structure was torn down to prevent any additional material from falling into the river.
Following the April storm, the town authorized an expenditure of $125,000 for emergency demolition aimed at preventing a variety of contaminants, including lead, asbestos and PCBs, from polluting the river in phase 1 of a multistep process to remediate the property.
The Board of Finance and Board of Selectmen later approved spending up to $600,000 for the removal of demolition materials from the site in phase 2 of the process. That removal began in late July but was halted as part of an effort to reduce costs further.
The work is being supervised by Stonington Town Engineer Scot Deledda, with additional oversight from Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns.
“It wasn’t a delay, really. Not a day has gone by that Scot or someone at town hall wasn’t on the phone or working to keep this project moving,” Prue said. “Our staff has done a phenominal job of making sure we moved forward in a manner that was responsible, both environmentally and financially.”
Both Prue and Simmons said Monday that a change in contractors from Ocean Trace Demolition & Hauling, the company that conducted the initial demolition, to Standard Demolition Services of Trumbull helped to realize significant savings. Ocean Trace provided a bid of around $600,000 for removal, while Standard was able to provide services for an estimated $350,000.
The savings include a change that allowed the town to seek more efficient disposal of potentially contaminated materials. When the process first started, officials said a dozen truckloads were sent to Michigan at an estimated $9,500 per load, but a reduction in the remediation needs allowed contractors to bring the debris to New Hampshire instead at an estimated $3,500 per load.
The reason for the distance in these trips, Simmons explained, is that only select disposal centers nationwide are equipped to handle certain debris identified as contaminated.
The two selectmen warned that numbers are still “very fluid” at this process, but each said based on what is known, the town should be able to complete phase 2 of site remediation at considerably less than the $600,000 approved.
“There are a number of variables that came into play, and fortunately, while it has led to a lengthy process, it also led to us being able to reduce costs,” Simmons said.
Looking to the future
Once work is completed in the coming weeks, Simmons and Prue each said the next step will be to determine what comes next for the property. The town has put a lien on the parcel to try and recoup costs from the owners and may consider secondary actions, including additional liens or legal processes that could lead to the town acquiring the property in some form to address ground-level and slab contamination that will remain beyond phase 2.
The factory, which was purchased by Pawcatuck Landings LLC in 2003, was built in 1838 and originally operated as a water-powered woolen mill. Later, it was converted to a metal castings mill, which closed in the late 1990s.
Pawcatuck Landings LLC conducted site remediation and asbestos abatement upon purchasing the property, but a recession led the company to scrap plans for building apartments and the site was abandoned. Ownership was not present at a 2018 tax sale at the property, Simmons said.
Simmons said an email Monday, which was sent to Burns, Stonington Police Chief J. Darren Stewart, town staff, the Board of Selectman and the Board of Finance, that he is prepared to move forward in seeking additional liens or taking other legal action.
If the town were to acquire the property, both Simmons and Prue said they’ve heard ideas from the public about using the property as a public park or parking lot — several such ideas have been shared to community pages on Facebook — but they warned it’s too early in the process to determine exactly what will happen next.
Prue noted that while the removal process would end the most difficult and expensive part of the process, it could still be a few years before everything is finally settled and the future of the property is revealed.
Any discussions regarding acquisition or use of the property would be part of future town meetings, and both Prue and Simmons stressed that no decisions have been set in stone at this time.
“We are nearing the end of the latest phase, but then the question becomes, ‘What do we do next?’” Prue said. “At the end of the day, we are still looking at a number of decisions that need to be made. It will likely be a number of years and a number of additional steps before we reach the end of this.”