WILTON — The owner of the former Forster Mill said he hopes to start tearing down the blighted downtown industrial complex in May.
Town residents were scheduled to vote at a meeting Tuesday night whether to foreclose on the property, but owner Adam Mack paid the $8,469 in back taxes he owed earlier that afternoon.
Mack, owner of Wilton Recycling LLC, said by phone Wednesday that he is working on a plan in which demolition of the Depot Street structure would start sometime after spring thaw.
“We will be presenting a plan to them (the town) soon for tearing down the mill,” Mack said. “If all goes well, in May we’ll tear down the part that had been partially torn down previously. We’ll do it in phases.”
Wilton officials have repeatedly said they are concerned that the town will have to pay, at least in part, the cost of the demolition, but Mack said he expects to have enough money to tear the building down himself.
“There will need to be some seed money to get started,” he said, adding that he hopes to partially pay for the project by reselling building material.
Mack said he paid back taxes just before the foreclosure hearing because he had been out of state and couldn’t make a trip to the Town Office.
The town filed a civil suit against Mack in Franklin County Superior Court last year for an order of demolition on the property, which the town argues is unsafe and in need of demolition under state law.
Mack pleaded guilty in 2012 to misusing federal money in an attempt to salvage a family business, which was not related to the mill issue. He served a six-month sentence, during which he communicated with the town through a proxy.
Mack bought the building in 2006, but efforts to clear the site for development have been halted by a contractor’s botched demolition attempt, asbestos removal, federal fines and funding shortages. Selectmen told the 40 residents who showed up for the canceled vote Tuesday that they were not sure what motivated Mack to pay off the taxes and maintain ownership of the property.
Selectman Paul Berkey said he is very surprised that Mack wanted the property and didn’t let the town take over the financial responsibility for it.
If the town and Mack cannot come to an agreement to have the mill torn down, then the case will proceed to trial, Town Manager Rhonda Irish told residents Tuesday night.
Estimates on the cost of the tear down have varied, but all calculate the expense being at least $250,000.
Chairman Scott Taylor said he wanted residents to know that the process has been slow partially because selectmen don’t want to rush into confiscating the property and assume responsibility for possibly even more hazardous material. Taylor said there could be lead paint or more asbestos than they know about.
“I know it seems at times like we’ve been sitting on our heels,” he said.
Selectmen and residents in attendance tossed around the idea of putting away $50,000 per year so selectmen would have the money set aside for projects like these.
The town is in the middle of cleaning up two other hazardous properties: a former tannery on U.S. Route 2, which will be cleaned up funded by a federal grant and the front yard of an Adams Street homeowner, whom they are suing for the cost of cleanup.
There is still some asbestos on the Forster Mill site and the Department of Environmental Protection would have to oversee future demolition. A crew was in the process of tearing the empty mill down in July 2011 until asbestos was reported after a fire, halting demolition. No one had inspected the mill site for the presence of asbestos before the demolition, a violation of Department of Environmental Protection rules. The majority of the asbestos has since been removed.
Before work was halted, however, Downeast Construction removed and sold an estimated $250,000 worth of metal from the building. Downeast Construction, owned by Ryan Byther, was fined $154,200 earlier this year by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration because it failed to properly inspect the site for asbestos.
In November 2012, Mack’s company, Wilton Recycling LLC, was ordered to pay a $7,500 penalty to the state for the company’s role in the asbestos hazard to employees.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 [email protected]