Historic Robertson Paper Mill building faces demolition

Robertson Paper
Robertson Paper Co. building will be demolished with an anticipated completion date of May 30, 2019. Photo by Joe Milliken.

 

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – In November of 2018, it was announced that the historic Robertson Paper Mill building, located on the Island in Bellows Falls and owned by Island Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of the Bellows Falls Area Development Corp., was to be demolished after it was determined that the building could not be rehabilitated. The project has been a work in progress for five years.

BFADC is a nonprofit development group that bought the abandoned building in 2013, then applied for various funding to pay for the industrial clean up and demolition, including grants received from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Cleanup Program, the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Community Development’s Community Development Block Grant Program, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, the Windham County Economic Development Program, and the Windham Regional Commission’s Brownfields Assessment and Revolving Loan Fund.

Rockingham town development director, Gary Fox, recently stated that a local company, Buck Adams Trucking and Excavation, placed a bid and was hired to lead the $1.2 million project, and demolish the building. Four companies had originally bid on the project, which also includes the clean up of the contaminated industrial site. “We are happy to be able to offer the project work, and secure a contract with a local company,” Fox said in a recent interview.

The Robertson Paper Co. was established in 1892 had moved into the building in the early 1900s. Prior to that, the Bellows Falls Machine Co. had occupied the facility. The property is spread over a 30-acre portion of downtown Bellows Falls, including buildings on The Island and along the historic Bellows Falls canal.

According to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the soil surrounding the main buildings contain such hazardous elements as asbestos, lead, and arsenic. Through the environmental study, it was determined that some of the contaminated soil is to be excavated and removed from the property and replaced with an 18-inch layer of topsoil.

Another concern arose when historic and educational groups became interested in obtaining items housed in the former paper mill, as well as a couple Native American groups interested in possible indigenous artifacts on the property. All potential historical items have since been identified and removed from the facility.

“An archeologist was then hired to assist with the project and after reviewing topographical and site maps of the property, it was determined through the digging of six-foot deep test trenches, there may be Native American burial shafts on the property. Therefore, we need to be careful during the excavation process to preserve possible artifacts. We want to do it right, and it will slow the work down, but we also don’t want to waste too much time as to remain cost effective.”

Other phases of the project include a 180-foot water well placed in between three oil tanks, which was extracted from the property and then filled in, and because there is asbestos in the roofing materials of the building, an asbestos company was brought in to work with state regulators during demolition.

BFADC had purchased the facility in 2013, but after engineering studies determined that the building was unsafe and could not be rehabilitated, the demolition plan was put into motion. As the demolition continues, it will be determined what materials from the building can be salvaged – such as wood beams, bricks, and cinder blocks. The property will be fenced in as the structure is finally dismantled.

The project is expected to be complete by May 30, 2019, with a goal to sell the property to a business developer as to create new business and job opportunities for the local community.

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