Paper mill demolition set for Dec.

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Bellows Falls Area Development Corp. has an apparent low bidder who is ready to demolish the derelict Robertson Paper Mill in the downtown area.

Gary Fox, the Rockingham town development director, declined to identify the low bidder for the $1.2 million project until the end of the month, when a final contract will be signed.

But he said the local company would not start work on the demolition until December and would continue through the winter until weather stopped work. He said he expected the final demolition and environmental clean up would be completed by early summer. Island Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of BFADC, is the official owner of the project.

Fox told the Rockingham Select Board on Tuesday that four companies had submitted bids for the project, which also involves the clean up of a heavily contaminated industrial site. Island Holdings has received at least six different grants toward the clean-up and demolition.

The papermaking process has contaminated the soil surrounding the old mill, and the buildings themselves contain lead, arsenic, asbestos, petroleum and 'polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons,' according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Some of the contaminated soil will be excavated and removed, while some will be left behind and capped with an 18-inch layer of soil, according to the clean-up plan.

Robertson Paper, which moved into the building in the early 1900s, is spread over a total of about a dozen buildings on The Island, a 30-acre portion of downtown Bellows Falls that is cut off from the rest of downtown by the historic Bellows Falls Canal. The Bellows Falls Machine Co., was an earlier tenant of the site.

In a later follow-up interview, Fox said he wasn't releasing the name of the successful bidder because final details need to be ironed out. The contract is with the local non-profit development group, which bought the building a couple of years ago and applied for state and federal grants to pay for the brownfield industrial clean up.

Fox said BFADC had issued a notice that it would be executing a contract by the end of the month for the project.

Susan Hammond, chairwoman of the Rockingham Select Board, questioned whether there would be time for the historic groups interested in the former paper mill to remove historic objects. Fox assured her that items were being tagged and that both the Bellows Falls Historical Society and the Claremont, N.H.-based Northern Heritage Mills, an educational group, were taking historic items from the paper mill complex.

Robertson Paper at one point was one of the largest paper mills producing waxed paper and florist paper for use all over the country. It ceased manufacturing operations in 1987, when it declared bankruptcy. Parts of the complex were used for storage until a few years ago.

The local development group bought the complex in 2013, and engineering evaluations determined the buildings could not be rehabilitated, prompting the demolition plan.

Fox said the two groups would be removing the objects they wanted by Sept. 14.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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