Developer on Roosevelt Mill remediation project may begin work this summer
By Annie Gentile
ROCKVILLE — A viable future for the old Roosevelt Mill building on Route 74 in Vernon has become a real possibility if one can judge by the recent activity taking place at the former sweater manufacturing company.
Vacant since the mid-1980s, the 90,000-square foot reinforced concrete mill building has long been an eyesore for the town. The site is littered with broken glass and choking weeds, but the worst of its problems lie under the earth. The property was contaminated with dry-cleaning chemicals, heavy-duty chlorinated solvents PCE and TCE, which must be eradicated if the building is to be put to good use.
Town Administrator Larry Shaffer said the town has been working with a private developer, Joe Vallone of Loom City Lofts, who is interested in turning the behemoth into a combined housing and commercial property. Slated for demolition will be the one-story former Mark Metal building, a former dipping operation and a powerhouse, which is located in the rear of the property.
Shaffer said Vallone has already secured the necessary commercial and housing permits as well as the local approvals from the Inland/Wetlands Commission and the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The biggest hurdle, however, will be getting a clean bill of health from the Department of Environmental Protection. The first part of that hurdle was met when the DEP approved the Remediation Action Plan presented by the developer to clean up the site. If the developer adheres to the requirements of the RAP, then the DEP should not seek further cleanup requirements, Shaffer said.
Shaffer said there are basically two areas on the site that are contaminated. First, there is an approximately 3-1/2 acre portion at the rear of the property where coal ash was taken from the powerhouse and used as fill in the parking lot. Some of the fill is up to four feet deep. This, Shaffer said, is a PAH contaminant, which the DEP will allow them to cap with an impervious material surrounded by monitoring wells that will alert them if the material begins moving offsite. The idea is that it is better to leave the contaminant and control it where it is than to try to move it elsewhere. Should the monitoring wells detect movement of the contaminant offsite, a technique that would be employed to keep it in place is to drill down through the impervious material at various locations to draw the contaminant back in.
The second area of contamination, said Shaffer, is in an area on the ground floor of the main building where chlorinated solvents have dissolved into the ground-water in substantial amounts. There is a need to take care of the situation to avoid it getting into the nearby river as well as for concerns about fumes. This second reason explains the town-owned trailer that is parked on the site. Inside, it is filled with large pumps, mixing tanks and piping, the latter which runs into the Mark Metal building and on into the mill. A mixture of potassium permanganate and water is pumped into the lines and injected into approximately twelve well points along the lines. The mixture creates a chemical reaction or oxidation process that actually strips the chlorine molecule from the contaminants rendering them inert.
"It's a pretty novel approach," said Shaffer, who added that it is a much less expensive technique than the traditional method of simply digging up the contaminated earth and hauling it away. Shaffer said the process has been used at sites in Indiana and California , but the Roosevelt Mill site will have greater weight, as there is a higher concentration of contaminant there.
The first round of injections, which lasted about six weeks, has been completed - two rounds are expected - and the EPA is now in the process of evaluating the first round results. That process is being conducted by the Environmental Research Institute at the University of Connecticut .
"The EPA has been wonderful to the town of Vernon ," said Shaffer, who estimated the EPA's investment in the project at about $800K. He said the town is not being held responsible for any of the costs of the effort. Rather, they awarded the town a grant which is designed to study the effectiveness of the technique. This study includes not only the testing after the injection rounds, but also the initial testing which determined the location, concentration, and fix of the contaminated sites.
Breathing new life into an old giant, Shaffer said, will have a multitude of benefits for the town, namely eliminating blight and adding it back to the tax rolls. Shaffer said he is hopeful that if all goes accordingly, the developer will be set to begin work next summer.
'This project is becoming more than just a pipe dream," said Shaffer. "It's becoming a reality."