EPA gives $200K to Plainfield for site assessment

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Plainfield - posted Mon., May. 13, 2013
A remnant of the InterRoyal mill with a holding pond as seen through a chain link fence. Photos by D. Coffey.
A remnant of the InterRoyal mill with a holding pond as seen through a chain link fence. Photos by D. Coffey.

The ruins of the InterRoyal Mill lie behind a curtain of honeysuckle, pine and maple off Lion's Park in Plainfield. The 16-acre parcel of land once housed a three-story, 650,000 square foot building and two smaller buildings. Demolition work and a fire have reduced the former mill to a shadow of itself. And while its legacy of commerce remains, so too does an environmental track record of contamination.

Several environmental investigations through the years have led to discoveries of soil and groundwater contamination and the presence of hazardous materials such as asbestos, lead paint and mercury. On May 8, Congressman Joe Courtney (D-2) announced that the town would receive a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complete the environmental assessment of the site. The grant is welcome news, according to Economic Development Coordinator Shelley Hopkins. She wrote and filed the 15-page grant in December 2012.

The money will be used to conduct a Phase III environmental assessment. “We'll use this money to fill in the missing data so we know what's on the property and what the cost of remediating the site will be,” Hopkins said. “We really need that information before we can develop a remediation plan.” The money will be spent on soil and groundwater testing in the basement of a building, and sites where lead paint was disposed of and a rust-proofing drag-out trench was located. “We know where activities were conducted on the site when it was in operation,” Hopkins said. “We'll test at each of those locations.”

Any remediation plan will need to take into consideration the effects of contamination in the man-made reservoirs on site, as well as Horse Brook which flows through the site.

The site has been home to an iron foundry, a cotton mill, iron and wood manufacturing companies, and InterRoyal, which manufactured business and hospital furniture. The mill closed in 1985, but space was leased to four different companies until 1995, when it was abandoned. Hopkins would like to see the area become a linchpin of redevelopment for Plainfield.

“It's key,” she said. “In order to do any revitalization of the downtown area, we need an anchor and that's the InterRoyal site.” The site lies withing an area enclosed by First Street, Railroad Avenue, Reservoir Road and Pervel Industries, Inc.

No one wants to take on the unknown. The sum for a remediation plan could be substantial. When the final assessment is done, town officials will know what their options are. “The whole purpose  of testing is to put a price tag on remediation,” Hopkins said. “We can't market the property until we can tell prospective developers what they're up against.”

The site is an orphan brownfield site. The owner of record no longer exists, so the town can't go after back taxes and clean-up costs. The town could take over the property and apply for clean-up funds through the EPA. Or the town could market the property if costs of remediation were not substantial. It's currently zoned for industrial use, and Hopkins said it would be a perfect location for a manufacturing plant or a warehouse facility that needs rail transportation. The Providence and Worcester Railroad Company goes right past the property.

Courtney said the announcement would help jump start redevelopment of the site and surrounding area, which has been on hold for 20 years because of the existing environmental hazards. “First Selectman Paul Sweet and his team deserve great credit for sticking with this project and securing the necessary funding in a tight funding environment,” Courtney said.

“This grant will enable the town to complete the environmental assessment of the property,” said Sweet. “We are very excited about the prospect of moving forward with the redevelopment of this important industrial site.”

Longtime Plainfield resident Walter Piolunek used to work at the mill. He'd like to see the site developed for industry again because the town needs the income. But not all residents agree.

Rosalind Civela and Vivian Maloney were walking the track in Lion's Park on May 10. “My dream is to see it taken down and have the brook cleaned up and the park extended,” Civela said.

“It's an eyesore,” Maloney added. “I wish they could build housing for the elderly like they did in Central Village.”

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