NEWPORT — The town of Newport will reattempt to secure federal funding to remove a longstanding and hazardous abandoned mill building.
The selectboard held a public hearing Monday to invite feedback about the town’s effort to secure $500,000 in federal grant funds to bring down the Ambargis Mill building, a 19th century mill building along the Sugar River whose environmental and structural concerns pose an troublesome liability to the town.
“It’s just a hazard and safety and liability concern,” said Judd Newcomb, a brownfields consultant who conducted an environmental study of the site. “It’s not necessarily a highly contaminated property . . . Most of the issues are just with the building itself.”
The town is currently applying for a brownfields cleanup grant, a federally funded program run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to cover the costs to remove the structure and contaminants from the site and replace it with a greenspace.
The $500,000 grant, if awarded, requires a matching contribution of 20% from the town, which would amount to $100,000.
The Ambargis Mill building, also known as the former Hartford Woolen building, is located directly on the Sugar River along Greenwood Road in the outskirts of town. The surrounding woodland area is part of an extensive recreational trail network and a popular trout fishing area.
While the building exterior is arguably “an eyesore,” the elaborate collection of graffiti within is actually quite beautiful, said Newport Planning and Zoning Director Christina Donovan.
“Some of the graffiti is quite impressive,” Donovan said.
Many of the property’s contaminants, such as toxic materials and wastes, were removed in 1999 through a collaborative project with the EPA and New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.
“The state went in and removed the bulk storage of liquids and immediate in-your-face hazards,” said Town Manager Hunter Riesenberg. “But there are still contaminated soils and structures that are collapsed and in poor physical condition that represent hazards both environmental and structural.”
The town applied for this federal grant in 2019 but were denied, according to Donovan, who was not working in Newport during that period. In researching the reason for being denied, an official told Donovan that the application lacked several key components, including indication of how the project would benefit the town’s economic development.
The 2020 application includes several details that expect to bolster the project’s consideration, Donovan said. The new application notes that the site is based in an opportunity zone, a federal program that offers tax incentives to investors that develop in an economically disadvantaged community. The application also includes the site study, which supports the need for the cleanup, and additional funding sources through community partners.
Though the application mentions building a recreation park on the site as a potential use, Riesenberg said that providing an example was necessary to the application but does not commit the town to that use.
“We are not asking for funds or looking for funds to create a park,” Riesenberg said. “This funding is purely for the rehabilitation or stabilization [of the property].”
Before the property was taken over the town, the Ambargis Mill site was owned by Christi Ambergris until his death in 1996. Ambergis’ wife inherited the property but relinquished ownership due to the sizable tax lien levied against it and the potential liability for the environmental cleanup.
Riesenberg said the town’s obligation of $100,000 has not been budgeted yet because it remains uncertain whether the grant will be awarded.