STONINGTON — Pawcatuck Landing LLC, which owns the former Connecticut Castings Mill property at 75 Stillman Ave., notified Stonington officials Thursday that it would not grant the town any rights to access the property.
Town officials said they needed to conduct further testing for possible groundwater and soil contamination as part of the Phase 2 remediation of the site. In Phase 1, the building was razed to prevent contamination of the Pawcatuck River.
First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said the owners' decision was definitely a setback in what was already expected to be a long and challenging process, and she has asked town attorneys to evaluate the town's legal options.
"When I spoke with one of the owners recently, it seemed they would be willing to at least give us access to the property, but he reached out and told us they will not allow it," Chesebrough said. The news came in an email. "It's really disappointing. This was the first step of many, and now it's another hurdle we will need to navigate."
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.
Part of the structure collapsed in an April 2019 storm, and the town authorized an emergency demolition at a cost of $125,000 to prevent lead, asbestos and PCBs from polluting the river. The Board of Finance later approved using $600,000 in town funds to complete removal of materials from the site.
Owners of Pawcatuck Landing, which is registered as a business in Connecticut under Michael Pervier of Worcester, Mass., could not be reached for comment.
If and when the town can gain access for testing, Chesebrough and Selectwoman Deb Downey said there were still a number of challenges ahead before the town can determine what could be done with the site. One of the issues, they said, would be to limit the town's exposure to further testing and cleanup costs, possibly through grants. The town is also seeking to recoup the 2019 costs from the owners through tax liens and other legal options.
Downie said she wanted residents to be aware that recent developments were the starting point of what is expected to be "a potentially very long process." But all three selectwomen ran on platforms that included addressing the mill, she said, and they intended to do everything they can.
"We intend to meet with state and federal representatives in the coming week and will be asking the question, 'What are our options?'" Downie said. "We need to see what type of grants or funding may be available, and what the conditions are to qualify for that funding."
Chesebrough and Downie also noted that the property may now be considered to be a floodway rather than a floodplain. Such a designation would further restrict options for development, regardless of whether the site remains privately owned or is acquired by the town.
Downie said the town is also exploring partnerships, including working with the University of Connecticut, which is interested in the site for a brownfield case study.
"UConn has a class that studies brownfield redevelopment. They had reached out to see if they could be part of the process because it would be a great opportunity to learn about regulations and the process for remediation, right from the beginning," she said. "It's a partnership that would benefit everyone."
Chesebrough said the town will eventually move forward and will seek to do so as quickly a possible, while acknowledging the challenges. She and Selectwoman June Strunk said Thursday that until the town can gain access, however, the focus will remain on working with the owners and town attorneys to identify the community's rights.
"The community still has its fair share of rights, as does the state, even if the owners try and tell us they won't allow access for testing," Strunk said.