Town eyes purchase of Webster Mill

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Since the Webster Mill was demolished in early March, town officials are discussing a possible purchase of the site. File photo
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As the cleanup process of the demolished Webster Mill building continues, town officials report that negotiations with the property owners are underway.

At the Town Council meeting on Monday, March 25, the cost for the demolition work was estimated at $112,562, which led to a request to the Finance Subommittee for an additional $40,000 to complete the work. The town has another $858,000 from a Brownfield Revolving Loan to be used for site cleanup. Per Department of Environmental Protection regulations, cleanup must be completed within six months.

“I would like to have this by the first of July, and that would give us plenty of time to do the budget, and see if there’s any capacities within the budget” said Town Manager Michael Borg at the meeting.

During the meeting, Council President Justin Paré raised the concern of procuring the Webster Mill, which has in the past been found to have contamination. The building was previously used as a jewelry-making factory. To that end, the town is planning to seek indemnification or a commitment not to sue from the commonwealth.

“Any dangers that might impose risks, liabilities to the town that they would put on us if it were to expose any other properties” said Paré.

The town is in negotiations with the owners of the site, and Councilor Mark Gould Jr. said they should “squeeze” them for a reimbursement of the costs of the demolition and cleanup. The owners of the site have said in the past that they do not have the money for the work, but would have their attorney be in touch with officials.

The building was demolished in early March after an inspection revealed that it was bowing inward and could potentially collapse. The 1.64-acre site and is zoned IC-30, which allows for commercial or industrial uses with a minimum 30,000 square foot lot size.

Concerns over rats

Since the building was demolished, residents living nearby have reported an increase in rats. Rachel Benoit, in response to a request for comment on social media, said she is two houses down from the site and has seen “a lot of critters” that chewed through her garage door and garden shed.

“I am glad that it is down,” she said of the mill.

One resident who lives a half mile away—who requested that their name not be used—hasn’t seen any rats in their area since or before the demolition. When asked about future uses for the site, they suggested a park or other public use area.

Rats in North Attleborough are not a new occurrence. Since the COVID pandemic closed restaurants—and simultaneously cut off a primary food source for rodents—they have been seen all over town and in surrounding communities.

John Donahue, a member of the Board of Health for 15 years and now on the Board of Public Works, dealt with a number of rat issues and said that it’s unlikely the demolition has led to any increase in the rat population. One reason for this, he said, is there was no food or water source in the building to attract rats in the first place.

“They have voracious appetites,” he said.

Donahue added that residents have a measure of responsibility in these matters, whether it’s keeping their trash tightly contained, bringing in bird feeders or securing chicken coops, as all three can be food sources for rodents.

“I won’t say there isn’t a rat problem, because there is a rat problem,” Donahue said.

That’s a sentiment that Jay Pajotte would agree with. Pajotte lives directly behind the mill and said there has been a rat problem for some time.

Pajotte has reached out to North Attleborough residents to see if any have had issues with rats since the mill came down and has received a number of responses. In his case, rats were found to have damaged his car to the tune of $3,000.

“But the mill being demolished did not help the cause,” he said. “It’s almost become normal for us to see rats running around, day or night.”

North Star Reporter Staff Writer Michael Oliveira contributed to this report.