WILTON — A group of municipal, state and federal government officials convened Thursday afternoon at the site of the former Wilton Tanning Co. for what was touted as a success story — the completion of an environmental cleanup project that has made it possible for local businessman John Black to buy the property and, he hopes, develop it into a thriving business park.

“This is a perfect example of how government is supposed to work,” Ben Tucker, a regional representative for U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said at the ceremony. “Working together, for the common good of the people.”

Wilton Town Manager Rhonda Irish led the event, which featured remarks from key players in the site’s cleanup and redevelopment, including representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, King’s office, the office of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and the office of U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District.

Black bought the property in May from the town of Wilton for $1 after Irish had sent out a request for proposals earlier in the spring that drew no takers. At the time Black bought the site, the bulk of the environmental cleanup project had been completed. Black plans to redevelop the former 62,000-square-foot factory and its 15 acres into the Wilson Stream Business Park.

Amy Jean McKeown, an EPA brownfield project officer, said Thursday that she’s worked on many brownfield projects throughout New England, and Maine especially, of which many only turn into empty green space.

“What’s different about this site is that it’s been cleaned and is now being developed,” McKeown said. “It’s a big success story.”


The project began in 2010 when the property was seized by the town of Wilton for failure to pay taxes, at which point, Irish said, there were two options: let the property, that was already on DEP and EPA lists as a contaminated site remain unoccupied or find a way to clean up the property and make it a viable option for redevelopers.

Irish, with the aide of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, had the site considered and accepted for inclusion in the federal brownfields program, which assesses the feasibility of hazardous material cleanup projects and helps carry them out.

The town received $200,000 in federal EPA and DEP funding for the initial assessment and cleanup, as well as a $150,000 state Department of Economic and Community Development grant to finish the cleanup process. The town also contributed a $40,000 funding match to the project.

“I have to admit, I didn’t fully understand what we were getting ourselves into,” Irish said. “The EPA actually scared me … but I didn’t realize it could be so fun to work with them.”

The cleanup, led by Ransom Consulting Inc., consolidated scrap leather and other contaminants left over from the tannery and buried them on the site. The landfill was then capped to prevent the materials from causing further environmental harm.

Black began work on redeveloping the site shortly after he gained ownership this spring. Over the summer, a crew of workers cleared debris from the building with the goal of making 10,000 square feet of the building usable by winter. He said that in the next 10 years, he wants to see the Wilson Stream Business Park become a center for local business — big or small.


Before snowfall, Black, owner of Wilton’s Rocky Hill Landscaping, plans to move his vermicomposting project into the building. He is also in negotiations with a solar company from California that is hoping to install a solar farm on the property by Thanksgiving.

Irish, who was praised at the event for her dogged commitment to the cleanup and redevelopment of the former tannery, already is looking toward her next project — the 12-acre site of the Forster Mill, which is structurally unstable and empty in downtown Wilton.

Irish said the site is in the second phase of brownfield assessments to determine whether it can qualify for a cleanup similar to that of the tannery site, although she already is trying to reach out to prospective buyers of the property to encourage further development in Wilton.

“We have to look ahead,” Irish said.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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