Middlebury to test for pollution at site of former factory in Otter Creek

MIDDLEBURY — After decades of neglect, the Middlebury selectboard has commissioned a study to examine possible pollution at the old mill site at the base of Otter Creek Falls and determine its next steps.
At its Aug. 22 meeting, the selectboard approved a $3,706 contract with Lincoln Applied Geology in an ongoing, “Phase II” environmental assessment of the so-called “David Page Cotton Mill” site that sits at the north edge of the falls. The study, mandated by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, will determine the extent of cleanup that will be required at the site, which the town acquired from the Middlebury Area Land Trust several years ago. The property hosts the deteriorating powerhouse structure that was once integral to water power generated by the raging falls.
According to town archives, throughout its history the site has hosted a sawmill (1787 to 1807), a flour 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.
The historical use of the site 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 records.
Some of these industries have used chemicals believed to have produced surrounding soil contamination. The ongoing studies will determine just how pervasive that pollution is, and how it can be cleaned up. Middlebury officials are hoping to secure grants to help cover potential cleanup costs, which have yet to be fully quantified.
Local project Manager Dave Hallam noted the town has no redevelopment plans for the property, which could result in state officials giving the community more time to implement a cleanup plan.
Under the new contract, Lincoln Applied Geology will take three additional soil samples at the David Page Cotton Mill site. Soil samples will be analyzed for arsenic, among other things, according to the company.

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