TORRINGTON — The mill buildings scattered around the city and along the Route 8 corridor made everything from ball bearings to car parts during the Industrial Age and the decades that followed.
Today, most of them sit empty, making only headaches for city and town leaders, firefighters and neighbors.
On Friday, U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy and Congresswoman Elizabeth H. Esty heard from local and state leaders during a roundtable discussion about the concerns they have with those buildings and what can be done with them.
Murphy told attendees he wants to build a "robust case for brownfield remediation" because it's critical that such sites get cleaned up and redeveloped. He also said it was an immediate concern because of the public safety hazards those vacant sites pose.
Torrington Deputy Fire Chief Christopher Pepler spoke at length about how those buildings can hurt and sometimes kill firefighters, such as the Cold Storage Warehouse fire in Worcester in 1999 that killed six firefighters. Pepler and Murphy also both referenced the recent fire at the old Bristol Babcock Factory in Waterbury.
When going to a scene, firefighters may run into dilapidated buildings and staircases that could injure firefighters.
"When I look at some of these buildings, I look at it as risk assessment," Pepler said.
Going after absentee property owners is difficult because the paper chase of limited liability corporation filings makes it difficult to find an individual responsible, Mayor Elinor C. Carbone said. It's not only the city that loses but neighboring properties, too, as homeowners and commercial property owners see their assessments decline.
"Think of the tax dollars we're losing from all the neighboring properties because (the buildings) are blighted," said Martin Connor, city planner.
Breathing new life into these properties takes money because of the remediation costs. Esty said she filed legislation to reinstate tax incentives to help spur redevelopment of brownfields. She said the bill would allow developers to receive a tax incentive for the costs incurred to clean up the site in the first year.
Torrington has its share of contaminated properties, but none are confirmed "brownfield sites." However, they still fall into the federal Environmental Protection Agency's definition of brownfields: "the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant."
A list maintained by the state that includes contaminated or potentially contaminated sites has about 150 properties in Torrington, most of which are leaking underground storage tanks.
The city has received a $1 million grant for remediation of the former Nidec property, which has been demolished by its owners over the summer. The city also installed a parking lot at 100 Franklin St. using a $670,000 Environmental Protection Agency brownfields loan.