Town Council addresses Amerbelle building safety concerns

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon/Rockville - posted Fri., Aug. 23, 2013
 Some believe the former Amerbelle textile mill being is being mistreated by its
Some believe the former Amerbelle textile mill being is being mistreated by its new owners. Photos by Steve Smith.

Vernon residents, as well as town officials, expressed concern over the recent treatment of the former Amerbelle complex in Rockville, after rumors began surfacing recently that the new owners, as of last October – Bridgepoint Funding Alliance, LLC – may not be caring for the building properly.

In October, ownership was transferred from the locally-based non-profit Hockanum Industrial Development & Venture Corp. to Bridgepoint Funding Alliance, LLC.

At the Town Council meeting on Aug. 20, residents Lance and Edie Cherniak said they were concerned after a transformer leaked on Aug. 7.

Missing transformer wiring caused a breaching of two transformers in the building, and leaked hazardous oil into a catch basin. About 400 to 600 gallons of the oil narrowly missed draining into the Hockanum River, officials said.

“I have to wonder what is going on,” Edie said, adding that the owners may have stripped the building of “all its precious metals, leaving the building a death trap, and… a ticking time bomb. People’s safety is at sake.”

“It’s created a huge safety concern for the Rockville area,” Lance said, also urging the council to come forward with information about the matter, and stating that he was concerned that the sale of the building to Bridgepoint was a “business deal gone bad.”

The council moved into executive session to discuss the matter, but not until after councilman Michael Winkler spoke during the citizen’s forum portion of the meeting, citing that he didn’t want to be bound to abide by the executive session and not speak about the matter publicly.

“I had heard all the rumors that Amerbelle was not functional, because when they took metals from the building, they took the sprinkler heads,” Winkler said, adding that the response he got from the town weeks ago was that the item would be on the agenda at this meeting, under executive session, and that he also asked for another inspection by fire officials.

After the executive session took place, Winkler told the Cherniaks and others that he had moved to take the matter out of executive session, but that motion failed, 6-3. However, he seemed confident that town staff would be providing more information to the public, and that was exactly what happened, as Town Administrator John Ward gave a timeline of the recent happenings.

Ward said that Bridgepoint had agreed to winterize the building and make it safe, at the time of the property transfer, and that Fire Marshal Ray Walker had met with them in November. The building’s sprinkler system needed to be altered, because the building would no longer be heated in the winter, and that work, according to Ward, was done, and connections to water supply were added to the building’s sprinkler system, which would aid the fire department in the case of a fire in the building, but the security upgrades needed were not.

“Satisfactory action was not occurring, with regards to that,” Ward said.

Ward then said that, in January, copper piping was taken from the building by a contractor hired by Bridgepoint.

In July, the fire department noticed that three of the four connectors were missing, and on July 25, and administrative search warrant was used to examine the interior of the building, and on July 26 it was ascertained that “significant portions” of the sprinkler system had indeed been removed.

Ward said the town is still working to deliver legal notice to Bridgepoint to bring the building up to state and local codes. Zoning enforcement also levied a fine against the owners of $100 per day until the building complies with zoning codes.

Ward and Apel said the town will be seeking legal permission to secure the property itself.

”It’s not a request to take ownership or control,” Ward said. “It’s a request to make secure the site.”

Ward added that the action would be filed by the town’s attorney by Aug. 22, and a result could come soon. On Aug. 23, the town reported that a court date was granted and set for Sept. 9. Bridgepoint representatives were ordered to appear.

Calls to Bridgepoint by the ReminderNews were not returned as of press time.

Mayor George Apel said that as a just-in-case measure, he was also asking Vernon’s economic coordinator to seek other potential developers interested in the building.

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