Middlebury powerhouse assessment sought

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury is pursuing a second environmental assessment of the historic powerhouse structure at the base of the downtown Otter Creek falls to determine what, if any, cleanup will be needed at the site the town acquired from a local land trust several years ago.
The town is currently requesting proposals from four pre-qualified firms to complete a “Phase II Environmental Site Assessment” for the powerhouse property, also known as the David Page Cotton Mill site.
A Middlebury powerhouse committee is taking stock of the landmark, which now consists of four stone walls. The town commissioned a Phase I study of the structure to determine what it would take to stabilize it.
That 2014 study, performed by Knight Consulting Engineers Inc., laid out several options to safeguard the old powerhouse, ranging from removing vegetation within it for around $10,000, to disassembling and reconstructing the walls at a potential cost of $500,000. Adopting most of the options contained in the report would produce a project just south of $1 million.
Powerhouse Committee Chairman Dave Hallam said the considerable cost of stabilizing the structure has narrowed the town’s focus to the environmental health of the roughly 1-acre site. According to town archives, the site during its history has hosted a sawmill (1787 to 1807), a flouring and gristmill (1808 to 1891), and a cotton factory that wove sheeting and spun yarn from 1811 to 1882. A gashouse and gasholder were constructed there in 1826 to supply illuminating gas to the cotton mill. The Cutter Marble Factory made gravestones and architectural elements in that area from 1882-1885.
A box factory operated there circa 1885, according to town documents.
The property was once owned by Central Vermont Public Service Corp., which produced hydroelectricity at the falls from 1938 to 1975, according to town records. A subsequent effort by Anders Holm to reintroduce hydropower at the falls has thus far failed to bear fruit.
The historical use of the building as a gashouse and gasholder is of particular concern to state and local environmental officials, due to unknown past disposal practices. Typical byproducts and waste generated in the gasification process include coal tar, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulfide, heavy metals, and cyanide, according to the town’s request for proposals for the Phase II environmental assessment.
Also of concern is what materials might have been discarded on site when the property was used as a cotton mill (potential caustic soda and aniline dyes) and as a power generation facility (potential lubricating oils, mineral oils, dielectric fluids, PCBs and other chemicals).
“We are not sure what kind of hazardous material might be found on that site,” Hallam said.
“It will be quite interesting to know what is finally there,” added committee member Tobias Woodard.
In the meantime, the powerhouse has sat idle. The town recently installed a perimeter fence around the structure to discourage trespassing and vandalism.
The Phase II study will determine what, if any, hazardous materials are at the site and would need to be removed in the event the property is ever substantially improved and/or redeveloped, according to Hallam. Middlebury received a state grant for the Phase I study. The town will have to absorb the costs of the Phase II study as there are no state or federal grants available for such work this year, Hallam noted.
“Funds are limited, and it’s yet to be determined whether the town can complete all of the tasks associated with the Phase II study,” Hallam said.
Plans call for the four pre-qualified companies to submit their Phase II site assessment proposals by May 20. The request for proposals calls for the “work to be completed as quickly as possible, and no later than Aug. 31, 2016.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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