013020 PAW Casting Mill site 432.JPG

Owners of the of the former casting mill property on Stillman Avenue have denied access to the site for environmental testing, creating another hurdle as Stonington officials work on ways to redevelop the riverside area. Jan. 30, 2020. The buildings in the background are in Westerly. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — The town is aggressively pursuing two state brownfield grants that would aid in environment remediation needs at Mystic River Boathouse Park and testing at the former site of the Connecticut Casting mill on Stillman Avenue.

Town staff filed separate applications for each project with the state last week, seeking funding through the Connecticut Office of Brownfield Remediation and Development and the Brownfield Municipal Grant Program. The applications seek a $754,000 remediation grant for cleanup and capping of pollution at the park, as well as a $139,000 assessment grant to identify the type and level of ground contamination at the Stillman Avenue site.

First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said that because the grant requests do not both seek the same type of work, the two are not considered to be competing applications which increases the town’s chances of acquiring one or both.

“This is a great opportunity to try and address a longstanding problem at Mystic Boathouse Park by capping it, and this type of grant would also allow us to move forward in seeing what exactly it is we are dealing with at that site,” Chesebrough said. “The funding would be a big help in moving both these projects forward.”

At $754,000, the request for the Boathouse Park remediation is a far cry from the estimated $2 million that was initially expected to be needed in order to both remediate ground pollution and other contaminants at the site. Chesebrough said the town, concerned about whether such a hefty price tag could cause the application to be denied, sought ways to alter the plan in order to reduce costs without negatively impacting the project.

Susan Cullen, the town’s director of economic and community development, and Selectwoman Debroah Downie, who works as a hydrogeologist/environmental consultant and licensed environmental professional, worked to rewrite the project to address needs at a fraction of the cost.

The result was a proposal that addressed a significant need without breaking the bank, something Chesebrough said will give the town an advantage as the state reviews proposals.

“Their efforts helped to address our needs in a way that wasn’t as expensive, and it will make our application that much more competitive when it comes to the review,” she said.

If the town is able to acquire the grant for the park, it will also allow the town to turn over much of the remaining fundraising to the recently formed nonprofit, Stonington Community Rowing Center.

Friends of Stonington Crew formed the organization just a few weeks ago as a way of focusing fundraising more specifically on the boathouse park project. The group has since kicked off its fundraising campaign and is seeking donations from the community and regional organizations to fund the physical construction of a boathouse and other property renovations.

When it comes to the mill property, located at 75 Stillman Ave. in Pawcatuck, Chesebrough said the grant could provide the loophole that the town has sought in order to gain access to the property and determine the extent of the pollution once and for all.

The factory, which was purchased by Pawcatuck Landings LLC in 2003, was built in 1838 and originally operated as a water-powered woolen mill. It later became a metal castings mill, which closed in the late 1990s. The town finished demolition in September.

Following a roof collapse in April 2019 following heavy rain, a portion of the building fell into the Pawcatuck River. The potential for significant environmental impact led the town to authorize an emergency removal of the 171-year-old building but have run into challenges in dealing with Pawcatuck Landing LLC, the company which owns the property.

The organization, which owes both back taxes and expenses associated with the emergency building removal, denied a request by the town in early 2020 to allow access. The town had sought at the time to partner with the University of Connecticut to allow a class to conduct the work as part of a brownfield redevelopment course.

Owners of Pawcatuck Landing could not be reached for comment Thursday.

“With the property having a lien on it, the town does not need the owner’s permission to gain access for this type of work,” Chesebrough said. “The hope is that grant approval will provide us an outlet to conduct a much needed assessment. We’ve had to wait too long already and need to get an idea of what we are dealing with at that location in order to build a plan moving forward.”

Chesebrough noted that it could be a while before the town is notified if the grants are approved. She said if funding is granted, the town would move forward with both projects immediately.

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