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WOONSOCKET â€“ The old mill buildings of Seville Dye and the U.S. Rubber Co. (Alice Mill) along the Blackstone River on Fairmount Street were destroyed by fires and their ruins razed over the summer by a wrecking ball.
But what happens now to the more than dozen of acres of industrial land at the two sites could play a major role in the cityâ€™s economic recovery.
Matt Wojcik, city economic development director, hopes at the least that what the future holds for the two former mill sites is a new industrial complex along the river that will create new jobs for city residents and new revenue for the cityâ€™s budget.
The Seville Dye property, damaged by last winterâ€™s heavy snowfall and then a fire on Feb. 27, has been cleared of all the former structures that lined its riverside site but converting it to a new use is not likely to be an easy task, according to Wojcik.
The propertyâ€™s owner, Robert Picciotti, owes the city approximately $1.5 million in back wastewater treatment plant fees, water use charges and property taxes from the manufacturing operation that went into receivership long before the February fire. The siteâ€™s past textile manufacturing use has also left it with unanswered questions about potential environmental contamination, according to Wojcik.
The city has already applied for federal EPA Brownfield analysis permits to begin a study of potential hazards at the Seville Dye site and will be looking for permission from the owner to conduct the testing, he noted.
The testing could tell what actually remains in the ground from the past manufacturing operations and how it should be mitigated if it does pose a threat to future reuse.
The city has already used a similar process to assess the former Lafayette Mill Complex off Hamlet Avenue and Florence Drive and establish a clean-up plan that allowed its reuse as a site for the cityâ€™s two new middle school buildings at the location.
â€śWeâ€™d like to find a way to cooperate on redevelopment of the property,â€ť Wojcik said. â€śThe highest and best use of everybodyâ€™s time and energy would be to cooperate.â€ť
Such an environmental review would be needed for any major reuse of the site, according to Wojcik.
While there are many possible uses for such land if a â€śclean billâ€ť environmental review is obtained â€” apartment complexes, commercial business and major industrial â€” Wojcik said he would like to see an industrial use there given its potential for job creation.
â€śThe modern interpretation of that word is no longer that of heavy equipment spewing solvent fumes out the window,â€ť he said. New industrial uses often involve the construction of metal buildings housing storage facilities and some manufacturing processes and can even be combined with residential uses, he noted.
â€śI would hope the site will be used to try and keep industry in the city,â€ť he said.
The former U.S. Rubber Co. mill property, long known as the Alice Mill, is still in the process of being cleared of the bricks left from the structureâ€™s demolition, but its owner, Steve G. Triedman, has said he plans to build a new industrial building at the site to house his planned wood pellet manufacturing operation.
Triedman has a total of 7.7 acres of land at the former mill site and Wojcik hopes all of that can be kept in industrial use even if it is not needed for the planned wood pellet business. The Alice Mill complex had access to the railroad line nearby, which remains a development asset, according to Wojcik.
â€śHopefully, it can be subdivided as industrial property to help keep other businesses here in the city,â€ť Wojcik said.
With the cityâ€™s Highland Industrial Park site nearly fully occupied, Wojcik said reuse of existing mill properties may be the only way for the city to find new industrial and commercial sites within the cityâ€™s eight square miles.
â€śTo do things in the future, you are going to need to remove structures that are not being used and repackage the bigger parcels in this city for redevelopment,â€ť he said.