After seven years of effort and roughly $1 million in expenses, the site of the old Pioneer Street Mill is officially decontaminated.
“I’m very relieved,” said Amsterdam town Supervisor Tom DiMezza. “It’s been a long row to hoe.”
According to state Department of Environmental Conservation paperwork, the site was clean as of March 19, bringing the long saga to a neat end.
“The findings of the investigation of this site indicate that the site no longer poses a threat to human health or the environment,” DEC Environmental Remediation Director Robert Schick wrote in an official statement. “Therefore no further actions [are necessary].”
The old mill was built in 1871, powering textile production with water pouring from Harrower Pond into the Chuctanunda Creek. As industry moved out of Amsterdam, the place was used for a few other things but ended up crumbling, abandoned and owned by the town.
“We must have been working on this since 2006,” DiMezza said. “We couldn’t just knock it down because it was historic somehow. We had to pay a professional photographer to come out and document the thing.”
Then once it was demolished in 2008, the land was found to be contaminated. Chemicals stored in the building — including some metals and coal by-products — seeped into the ground over the mill’s many years of operation.
The discovery brought in DEC inspectors and a lot of official paperwork to deal with. There were test pits and chemical analysis and core samples to make sure contaminants hadn’t reached the water table.
Chain link fence sprung up around the site. Weeds grew. It sat for years. One of the largest holdups was money.
“We’re not a prosperous town,” DiMezza said, which is why officials had to spend a year and a half seeking out grants to cover the bulk of the cleanup cost.
Finally, last fall, with the help of a 90 percent grant from the state’s Environmental Restoration Program, the town hired a local construction crew to cover the whole site with two feet of dirt.
The actual work wasn’t too large a job. Larry Rogers, project manager for Delaware Engineering, which headed the remediation, said previously, “It’s very lightly contaminated. Otherwise, the DEC would want more than a 2-foot soil cap.”
Even so, the cleanup wasn’t cheap. DiMezza is still tallying up the cost, but early estimates put the town’s investment at $100,000.
“All together, with the state money, it’s about $1 million,” he said. “It’s an expensive process.”
Workmen planted grass over the mound before snow fell. This spring, it will sprout green for the first time, healing the scar that was left open for so long. Town officials plan to erect a fence between the land and the creek to stop children from falling in and put some benches facing the old Harrower dam.
“There’s a nice waterfall there,” he said. “People can sit and reminisce.”
The Harrower dam, built at the same time as the mill, is also in disrepair. DEC inspectors classified the structure as a safety hazard last year, but DiMezza isn’t eager to step in. The dam isn’t owned by the town, so he’s staying out of it, especially after the expense of what should have been a simple demolition project.
“The town is ready to move on to other things,” he said.
Sergio Delavega of Jersey City reportedly bought both the mill and dam property at a foreclosure auction. He then turned the mill over to the town of Amsterdam to be demolished. The dam itself, however, was not accepted by the town and remains in private ownership.
In the next few years, the town hopes to get grants for a walking path to stretch between the little mill site park and Hagaman along the old rail grade.