Windsor Mill contaminant report shows impact of past use on development options
NORTH ADAMS — The results of environmental testing at the Windsor Mill on Union Street have forced the city to consider its next steps.
"It means we have some work to do before we would take another swing trying to find a buyer for the Windsor Mill," Mayor Thomas Bernard said of the test results, which flagged contaminants at the former industrial site.
The city announced last month that an architect's plan to redevelop the mill at 121 Union St. — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — had been abandoned more than a year after it was first proposed.
Simeon Bruner's Cambridge Development Corp. submitted the winning bid for the Windsor Mill when the city issued a request for proposals on the property in 2017.
Though Bruner's offer of $465,000 was less than the $500,000 bid submitted by the New York-based investors who bought the Dowlin Block on Main Street, he won the support of then-Mayor Richard Alcombright followed by the City Council.
Based in Cambridge, Bruner was fresh off of the award-winning phase III renovation of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and had a history of bringing old mills back to life.
Bruner submitted a plan to invest $400,000 into the historic Windsor Mill, transforming it into a hub of artists, galleries and rental lofts.
But the environmental conditions of the site proved to be an obstacle.
"I don't want to speak for Mr. Bruner, but it's fair to say that the ability to get financing was limited or complicated by the findings of this report," Bernard said. "Without some attention, my understanding is that the surety he would have had to provide was prohibitively high."
Under the terms of the purchase and sale agreement the developer signed with the city, Bruner entered an initial phase of environmental testing, completed in September 2017 by Connecticut-based environmental consultant GZA.
The phase one report recommended further testing of the site.
"Historical sources indicate that the mill complex at the Site previously included a `waste house,' an `analine building,' and a coal house which included oil storage," the report stated. "It appears that the former locations of the coal house (with oil storage) and analine building have been paved over. The waste house location has either been paved or landscaped over. Therefore, observations pertaining to potential historical releases at these locations could not be made during Site reconnaissance."
The scope of the second phase of environmental testing conducted in late 2017 and early 2018 included the drilling of temporary wells and monitoring of groundwater, as well as soil sampling.
Several soil samples contained coal and coal ash above reportable concentration levels at four locations at the mill property.
The groundwater tested positive for the presence of cyanide at multiple wells, though not above the reportable concentration standard, according to the report.
Bruner asked if the city would provide an indemnification clause, according to Bernard, "which we couldn't and wouldn't do."
"Beyond that, looking at the cleanup, that wasn't something that he had indicated an interest in exploring," Bernard said.
That the property would contain contamination does not come as a shock to city officials.
The mill was the home of Windsor Print Works and then the Consolidated Textile Company from 1872 until the 1950s. The city has operated the mill since the 1980s as a multiuse business park, the tenants of which now include B&B Micro Manufacturing and a host of others.
"I don't think you can look at industrial sites around here, or anywhere, that were in operation for that long and not find that the habits and practices of past eras have consequences for us today," Bernard said.
City officials have discussed what options it has to address the contamination, including via brownfield remediation funds.
"The way I understand these things, in this purely laymen's level, is [the contaminants] are reportable, but not necessarily significant beyond the fact that any finding is significant," Bernard said.
The breadth of necessary cleanup, if any, remains unclear for now.
At The Eagle's request, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection reviewed the GZA report.
"The study was not required by MassDEP and was conducted as a preliminary due diligence assessment. Based on our review of the findings, it appears that there may be contaminants above the Massachusetts standards but more assessment work is needed to determine if there are any risks or if any cleanup is needed," said Catherine Skiba, service center manager at the DEP's Springfield office.
The city does not believe the contaminants pose a risk to the mill's current occupants.
The Windsor Mill is one of several city-owned properties that former Mayor Alcombright, and now Bernard, have worked to sell to private developers.
The city was also confronted with environmental contamination at its former Department of Public Works headquarters on Ashland Street, which is currently under a purchase and sale agreement with Cumberland Farms.
But in that deal, the city agreed to shoulder the burden of cleanup with Cumberland Farms, agreeing to contribute $131,500 of the $575,000 purchase toward remediation of the site.
Bruner has not returned multiple requests for comment from The Eagle.
Adam Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.
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