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After the fire: what's next?

The day after the blaze at Parson's Paper the site was still smoldering and the smell of smoke was heavy in the air in central Holyoke. The red X sign on the building told firefighters not to go into the building in case of a fire as it was deemed structurally unsound. Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

HOLYOKE Mayor Michael Sullivan said the next step with the cleanup of the Parsons Paper Building site would be to exhaust the city's legal options to try to minimalize the impact of the cleanup of the fire ravaged building on taxpayers.

Sullivan said he believes there is a very good chance the city will receive $1.4 million through bankruptcy proceedings that could be used to pay for the removal of the debris. He estimated the cleanup could be around $1.6 million, although that figure could change due to environmental concerns, such as the presence of asbestos or brownfield situations.

Because of its location close to Interstate 391, the site has already generated some interest, Sullivan said.

"I don't think it will be a long-term burden to the city," he told Reminder Publications on Friday. He said his administration is both "anxious and willing" to working with developers for the site. He acknowledged, though, that development isn't "going to be easy."

The plant's owner, National Vulcanized Fiber (NVF) of Yorklyn, DE, owes the city about $1.9 million in back taxes and other fees. Mitchell Moskal, the city's management assistance program director, said it is not known if the property was insured or if it was, for how much. A phone call to NVF was not returned.

Moskal was the last general manager of Parsons Paper from 1995 to when the plant stopped operation in 2004. He worked for the company for 32 years. He said that at the time of the closing two of the plant's five waterwheels were still in operation, generating electricity from the moving waters of the canal.

That feature may be attractive to developers of the property and he expressed concern that the fire and falling debris may have damaged the water wheels that had been working. The water wheels, when in operation, helped improve the flow of the water in the canals, he said, making electrical generation easier for other locations in the city.

He said that when the removal of the debris from the site takes place, whatever company undertakes the project should be mindful of the impact the cleanup might have on the wheels and the raceways.

NVF had been forced to clean out the paper stock and chemicals from the building before it was boarded up in December 2005, the machinery was never moved out of the building, Moskal said. The paper making apparatus might complicate the cleanup of the site, he added.

Moskal said machinery was left in the building, as it could not be sold as it was considered obsolete by auctioneers, who considered trying to sell it,

When Moskal joined the company in 1973 it employed 120 people. When it closed it had 43 people. He said that two years before the closing of the plant NVF had frozen all funds to purchase the material needed to make finished products. At that time the plant was doing $5 million a year in business.

Moskal suggested the plant clients buy the needed materials for specific orders and, although sales dropped to $2 million a year, the plant stayed in business two more years.

Sullivan said the city had helped find positions for many of the employees to lessen the impact of the closing.

Moskal said Parsons had been the first paper mill in the city, established in 1853 by J.C. Parsons, a pharmacist who wanted to get into the paper business. He was at first denied building on the canals because it was thought the vibrations from the papermaking machines would shake apart a brick building. Parsons bought a gristmill on the river and started a campaign to be allowed to build on the canal, which he eventually did. The building that stood until last week's fire for over a century was never affected by the movement of the machines.