Wetlands Agency approves demolition for a handful of Collins Co. buildings
By John Fitts
CANTON – The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency on May 25 approved a permit application related to a demolition plan for a handful of buildings at the Collins Co. complex in Collinsville.
In February of this year, the town’s fire marshal and building inspector issued orders to At Collinsville, LLC for abatement of unsafe conditions at a handful of buildings in the historic complex. The company installed fencing and additional safety measures soon after.
One of the building’s referenced – the iconic “granite” or “stone” building, and the attached pump house – will remain in place. At Collinsville, LLC plans to repair a large hole in that stone building and a structural engineer has agreed the building can be secured.
A series of connected buildings directly to the rear of that Stone building, however, are more severely deteriorated and the company has agreed to remove them – while keeping the slabs under them in place.
While there are different numbering systems for the buildings, Phil Doyle of Simsbury Landscape Architectural Design Associates P.C., who has acted as agent for the owner, lists them as follows in the application:
• Building 21 - the 8,848 square foot “Rolling Shop”
• Building 22 - the 15,467 square-foot “Lower Forge”
• Building 23 - the 4,000 square foot “Idle Drop”
At a May 11 wetlands meeting, Doyle said that taken together, the buildings – about 60 feet wide –are approximately 400 feet in length. Also, at least one shed at the side of the granite building will be removed to provide access for repair crews.
While the buildings are near the Farmington River, the activity will not impact wetlands, according to the application. Some of the building area, however, is in the 100 foot “Upland Review Area.”
At that May 11 meeting, the members of the agency, Fire Marshal Tim Tharau and representatives of At Collinsville held a fairly lengthy discussion about the process – with agency members asking several questions and expressing a few concerns.
Additionally, the applicant noted that the town’s orders were serious and the work must happen.
“We have no choice in this matter but to do as we were ordered by the fire marshal and the building inspector,” attorney Robin Messier Pearson, of Alter & Pearson, said.
Additionally, Tharau said there will be checks and balances from local and state officials and agency member Robert Bahre shared some past practices of an automotive business that operated in one of the areas to be demolished. Bahre also shared some of the detailed process involved in removing a building that contains contaminants such as asbestos.
By the end of the meeting, members were poised to approve the application but, at the advice of Pearson, scheduled the May 25 meeting to ensure that no members of the public petitioned a public hearing with the 14-day allowed period.
And while Doyle included much detail in his original application, he also filed – for the May 25 meeting - some updates and outlined specific steps that would be taken.
One aspect that agency chairman Eric Henry had, on May 11, noted he’d like to see was a hazardous materials list.
In a May 22 letter, Doyle noted that an inspection has already been done and asbestos was found in window caulking and in solid building wall panels.
The demolition process involves many steps, plans, contractors and oversight from the town building department and state Department of Public Health. Additionally the contractors will install erosion control and other safety measures along the way, according to the application.
Doyle detailed each step in a submission to the agency, noting, for example, that following plan approval and installation of erosion and control measures –including a protective soil barrier - a contractor will first remove the hazardous materials by hand. Those items will be placed in lined dumpsters and removed off site.
After some additional testing at the site and other measures, another contractor will begin demolition from east to west and demolition equipment will operate internally from the slabs. As Doyle noted in previous submittals to the agency, the work being done on the slab is to ensure there are no environmental impacts to surrounding areas, including the Farmington River.
For example, a long-reach excavator will be used to pulls walls inward. Dumpsters and dump trucks will be used to remove material offsite, according to Doyle’s submittal. Some items, such as framing steel, will likely be recycled but will be staged on another concrete slab until it is removed.
At the May 25 meeting, Henry thanked Doyle and the rest of the team for the comprehensive application and referenced the concerns from the previous meetings – as well as an earlier discussion at a meeting that followed the town’s orders.
“When it first came to us, we were just making sure that it did go through the permitting process, and it has in my opinion,” Henry said.
Set on approximately 19 acres along the Farmington River, the complex – from 1826 to the mid 1960s – was home to The Collins Company, a world-famous manufacturer of edge tools. Some in the area sometimes incorrectly think the area is abandoned but some 45 to 55 small businesses operate in several factory buildings, particularly from the center of Collinsville to the Farmington River Trail bridge.
Re-development of the site is a subject of much debate in town. In May of 2021, New York based developer Sheldon Stein proposed a mixed-use plan for the site. In August of 2021, the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission made changes in the Industrial Heritage (IH1) zone that regulates redevelopment of the complex, many of which were requested by Stein. And while Stein is no longer pursuing the project – for health reasons, according to several sources – those changes are the subject of an ongoing legal appeal.
Now, according to numerous sources, Lisa and Merritt Tilney, daughters of At Collinsville LLC Managing Partner James W. Tilney, are working on a redevelopment plan, according to several sources, and Lisa Tilney joined the wetlands meetings remotely.
In the application, Doyle notes that as soon as later this year, plans will be submitted to CT Department and Environmental Protection and Department of Economic and Community Development in an effort to explore funding for environmental remediation at the site.
GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. recently conducted a Phase III Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) Report for the site, funded by a Brownfield grant through the Department of Economic Community Development (DECD).
According to a draft report, soil contaminants requiring remediation include lead, arsenic, Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). A preliminary cost analysis in that draft estimates cleanup between $2.2 and $3.4 million.
The buildings on site also contain materials with asbestos, lead and PCBs but a draft GZA report recommends that “project-specific abatement bid specifications be developed for use in obtaining contractor pricing and developing construction sequencing, prior to conducting renovation or demolition activities.”
In the wetlands meetings, Doyle has noted that the team is also working on a re-development proposal to present Canton’s land-use commissions.
As far as the demolition is concerned Doyle expects each stage to take just weeks, but he did not have an exact timeline as of the meeting.
However, the applicant team did note that the town’s building inspector is making sure the process moves along.