NORTH SMITHFIELD – It hangs over School Street, a run-down and crumbling reminder of the town’s past as a center for industrialism, appearing ready to collapse at the slightest stir of wind.
And according to a notice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Forestdale building is now also releasing asbestos into the environment.
The agency has announced plans to remove the former office on the property that held Stamina Mills, a five-acre Superfund site once used for textile production.
The proposed demolition, however, will need to be balanced with the need to preserve both the site and surrounding area’s rich history, and for the next week, the public will have the chance to comment on the project.
Mill operations first began on the Branch River property in the early 1900s, and closed down during the Great Depression. The mill reopened in 1969, and a chemical spill dumped an unknown amount of a chlorinated solvent into the ground that same year.
The spill led to groundwater contamination in the surrounding neighborhood.
The EPA first became involved in the early 1980s, adding the land to its list of Superfund sites. A remediation plan was put in place to treat the soil and groundwater, and residents in the area were added to the Slatersville Water Supply.
But the building itself, the last remaining vestige of the 20th century mill, has drawn interest from preservationists. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 as part of the Forestdale Mill Village historic district, and at points, the North Smithfield Heritage Association has expressed interest in taking over the property.
The primary mill structure burned down in 1977, leaving only the office, a pale yellow and white eyesore faded and blackened by time. The structure has boarded up windows and a partially collapsed roof, and has long been deemed unsafe for entry. An air conditioner hangs precariously from the window, dangling over School Street.
Although ownership of the property remains unclear, the town has a tax lien on the land, and town officials have more than once made their own attempts to remedy the danger. The Town Council allocated funds for removal of the structure in 2019, but bids came in higher than expected.
And this year, plans to put aside $25,000 for the demolition were thwarted by concerns over funding amid COVID-19.
“Our prior attempts to get the Stamina Mill Building eliminated as an eyesore and hazard were stymied by funding limitations,” explained Town Administrator Gary Ezovski in his weekly newsletter.
Ezovski noted that he pressed for consideration by the EPA and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management to take action as part of the Superfund program.
In July, the agency conducted sampling on the site, confirming the presence of asbestos in building materials.
“Due to the dilapidated condition, most acutely the collapse of a portion of the roof, the building is unsafe for entry,” the notice states. “As such, razing of the building is necessary to remove the ACM for disposal.”
“EPA has stepped up,” said Ezovski, noting that demolition could happen in November if all elements of this process move forward smoothly.
Due to its historic status, the work must follow preservation guidelines, and the EPA is working with the Rhode Island Historical & Preservation Commission to develop a Memorandum of Understanding on removal, also consulting with the North Smithfield Historic District Commission.
The agency is also soliciting public comment on the demolition, to be considered, “with regard to how to how the EPA can avoid, minimize or mitigate any adverse effects on other historic properties.”
Comments can be submitted to EPA Coordinator Catherine Young at email@example.com. Town Administrator Gary Ezovski is also accepting comments to provide to the agency, which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline to submit comments is Friday, Oct. 30.