Editor's note: This version corrects that the response was to a portion of the mill property at 21 Pawcatuck Ave. belonging to Pawcatuck Riverview LLC. The property abuts the renovated portion of the mill at 12 River Road, which is owned by Threadmill Partners LLC, a subsidiary of Westchester, N.Y.-based developer POKO Partners LLC.
STONINGTON — Potentially hazardous materials were discovered after part of the roof of an abandoned section of the old William Clark Thread Mill in Pawcatuck collapsed on Wednesday, officials said.
First Selectman Rob Simmons and Pawcatuck Fire Chief Kevin Burns said the site, adjacent to the Pawcatuck River on the northern end of the abandoned portion of the property, was cordoned off after firefighters and police arrived at about 4:30 p.m. Staff members with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were on the scene Thursday afternoon and Simmons said he hoped that safety issues would be addressed as soon as possible.
"My immediate concern are those living in the adjoining apartments," Simmons said. "Some of those closest have windows that are only about 40 feet away. We need to make sure we are able to get in there and remediate the problem as quickly as possible so they are not impacted by this issue."
Burns said Pawcatuck firefighters and Stonington police went to the complex at 21 Pawcatuck Ave. after receiving multiple reports that the roof had collapsed. The responders found that a beam had broken loose in a building at the northeastern portion of the property, which abuts both River Road and the renovated portion of the mill across from the entrance to Norwest Marine.
The property is owned by Pawcatuck Riverview LLC.
Volunteers with the Westerly and Old Mystic fire departments also responded. Pawcatuck officials requested a drone from North Stonington to get a view from above, but Burns said they were couldn't use it because of the site's proximity to the Westerly State Airport.
While searching to ensure that no one was in the building, Burns said responders found 18 barrels that were not properly labeled. At least a few of the barrels were known to contain a petroleum-based product, he said, but officials did not try to remove them immediately because of concerns about the structure's stability and the possible effect of moving unknown materials.
Officials remained on scene through the evening and into Thursday to await the DEEP response. Burns said that once state officials are able to address the hazardous materials, the site would be turned over to building inspectors for further evaluation. Simmons said he hoped that would happen by Thursday evening.
"Right now, we are just focused on addressing the environmental hazard," said Burns, who remained at the scene as incident commander throughout the day.
From the town's perspective, Simmons said the priority will remain focused on removal of any contaminants. He said he had been in contact with the owners on Thursday morning, who assured him that they wanted to work with the town and would comply with any requests made by building officials or state agencies.
According to Simmons, the collapse revealed that the owners had never dealt with problems that had led to a citation from former building official Wayne Greene. He indicated that the owners promised Thursday to address those concerns as well.
"When I spoke with the owner today I asked him, 'Will you cooperate? Will you put a plan in place that you agree to abide by to remediate these problems quickly and in a reasonable manner?'" Simmons said. "I want to work together with them on this, but I will not just sit here and let this issue linger. We need to get this resolved as soon as possible."
Simmons said it was too early to predict any timeline for such remediation, noting that the first step remains identifying the materials.
The collapse was the second one this year involving a mill in Pawcatuck. A storm on April 15 led to a partial roof collapse at the Connecticut Castings mill on Stillman Avenue. That incident threatened to release contaminants, including lead and PCBs, into the Pawcatuck River. Town officials moved quickly to coordinate the demolition of the building.
Simmons said the town is currently negotiating with environmental professionals to address the remaining problems with the site. "We are hopeful they will begin addressing final remediation on July 30," he said.