The regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved demolition of the burned rear tower of the Stenton Trust mill on River Street in Sanford. If their national counterparts in Washington, D.C., concur, the EPA would demolish the structure and remove contaminants. The city would then sell the steel and crush the concrete, which would be mixed with gravel and used for Public Works projects. Credit: Tammy Wells | Journal Tribune

The city of Sanford is just one step away from receiving help from the federal government with the burned out rear tower of the Stenton Trust mill building on River Street.

If all goes well, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will dismantle the rear tower and separate, remove, and dispose of mixed and contaminated materials, leaving the steel and masonry on site, which the city will address.

That is the word from Sanford City Manager Steve Buck, who informed the Sanford City Council of the latest developments on Tuesday.

Buck said the plan, approved at the regional level and now awaiting review in Washington, would see the EPA take down the rear tower, remove the mixed debris, and then wash and rinse both the concrete rubble and the steel that would be left for the city.

The extent of the demolition beyond the rear tower, like the saw tooth roof connector building, can only be determined as the initial demolition progresses, Buck said.

He said the current thinking is to sell the steel, and use the proceeds, plus a bit more, to have the concrete crushed. It would then be mixed with gravel for use by the Public Works Department.

He said the city has been talking with a “developer of interest” who is eyeing the front tower as retail mixed use and living space.

The foundation under the rear tower could be used as a base for multi-level parking, he said on Wednesday.

Fire destroyed the rear tower of the long vacant mill on June 23. Three 12- and 13-year-old boys were originally charged with arson in the case, but pleaded guilty to criminal mischief and were placed on probation for a year.

The owner of record is Jonathan Morse of Nevada, though property taxes have not been paid on the mill for many years.

The EPA performed a site investigation July 27, sampling materials and soils surrounding the complex and downstream of the air and water discharge from the structure fire that occurred on June 23.

That report deemed action is necessary due, according to Buck’s report, to “actual or potential exposure to nearby human populations, animals, or the food chain from hazardous substances or pollutants or contaminants.”

Buck’s report speaks to high levels of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants in soils “largely at or near the surface,” which may migrate, with asbestos as the primary contaminant.

The required Washington approval is to ensure the remedy, as approved by the regional EPA, is consistent with how the nine other EPA regions would treat the issue.

The city had been working with a couple of developers and applied for three Brownfields grants to help pay for environmental cleanup of the site, which was first used as a textile mill and then, over the years, for a variety of other industrial purposes, prior to the fire.

While the fire destroyed the rear tower of the 1920s structure, the front tower remains — as does a “developer of interest,” said Buck. To move forward with a project, a developer would require a sign-off — called a VRAP — to ensure the property was environmentally clear for redevelopment.

Councilor Robert Stackpole advocated that the council meet to discuss the long term potential for the building but seemed to change his mind after hearing Buck’s presentation.

Mayor Tom Cote noted the matter would come before the council at a time when the city would be poised to take possession of the structure to provide a clear title to facilitate redevelopment.

Councilor John Tuttle expressed reservations, as he has on previous occasions, saying the believes the time for redeveloping the property would have been in the 1980s. Tuttle favors demolishing the entire structure — as the council had advocated at one point after the June 23 fire — and pointed to a second fire that broke out in the front tower some months ago.

Cote said ”the minute” he doesn’t think the front tower has a future, he’d advocate for taking it down.

As to the EPA action, Washington’s approval should come within three weeks, and a plan for action would come this spring.

Buck on Wednesday said there’s a “lot of moving parts” to the ultimate plan for the property, but expressed confidence that it will happen.

“We can do this,” he said.

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