'Robbie Paper' demolition progressing

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BELLOWS FALLS — Demolition crews from Adams Trucking and Excavation are making progress in tearing down one of the village's most iconic but derelict and contaminated paper mills.

Work began on the Robertson Paper Co. complex in February, according to Buck Adams, whose Westminster firm is tackling the complicated demolition project. Adams said his crew spent the first month removing items and tons of old paper from the sprawling paper mill, which stopped operation several years ago.

The paper mill printed tons of custom paper for companies as diverse as USA Today and Trump Doran International, and Adams said all the paper left behind was recycled.

Robertson Paper Mill, which was locally known as "Robbie Paper," utilized more than a dozen buildings on the site, and historical items have already been removed by the Bellows Falls Historical Society or the Nothern Heritage Mills, an educational group in Claremont, N.H.

Robertson Paper declared bankruptcy and shut down in 1987. From 1992 until 2014, Green Mountain Specialties operated in the buildings, manufacturing Christmas wrapping paper and florist paper.

Robertson employed generations of Bellows Falls area residents at the downtown mill. Efforts to restore the 1890 brick mill, with its historic facade, came too late, as the buildings were too deteriorated for restoration, said Gary Fox, the Rockingham development director.

Fox has been working to shepherd the $1.2 million demolition project, which has been largely funded by state and federal brownfields cleanup funds.

Adams, during a tour Friday morning at the demolition site, said townspeople have been stopping regularly to watch the demolition project as it moves from mostly inside work to the more visible outside work. "We've got a lot of people stopping in daily," said Adams.

He said that people were welcome to watch the demolition, as long as they didn't get on the construction site. He said some people have asked for a sentimental token, such as a brick or a piece of wood, and he said he and his crew have tried to accommodate those requests, even though they take a lot of time.

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Rockingham Town Manager Wendy Harrison said earlier in the week that she hoped to organize a commemorative celebration of Robertson Paper Mill, since so many people had worked at the mill, which produced waxed paper, including florist's paper. "It would be nice to have an event for people who worked, or their parents worked, at the paper mill," said Harrison, noting people should contact her at the town office.

"Wendy is trying to pull together something for the community," Fox said.

Native American leaders in southern Vermont held a ceremony in January, Fox said, since The Island, a 30-acre site located between the historic Bellows Falls Canal and the Connecticut River, was a gathering site for Native Americans. Fox described it as "making peace" with the site's earliest users.

Once the site is cleared and seeded, Fox said, it will be put up for sale for future industrial development. While some contamination is being removed, the site is being covered with 18 inches of clean fill. The soil contains lead, arsenic, asbestos, petroleum and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, all from the papermaking process.

Adams said that the project is unusual because most of the materials are being recycled. "It's all spoken for," said Adams, as one of the three large excavators on the scene crushed a large pile of woody debris, getting it ready to be trucked away.

Large wooden beams are being cleaned of nails, and sorted. Most of the beams are yellow or white pine, he said. The material that can't be recycled, including the asbestos-tainted roofing material, is being trucked to a Casella Waste Management landfill in Coventry.

All of the bricks in the building have been sold to a company that sells old bricks. As the brick walls are taken down, they are sorted and put on pallets."This is a little more methodical than a straight demolition job," Adams said. "A very minimal amount has gone to a landfill," he said of the debris left behind.

Fox said by contract the clean up is expected to be completed by May 30.

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


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