Railroad dispatch center planned

Published: 1/17/2022 8:49:35 PM
Modified: 1/17/2022 8:48:31 PM

ST. ALBANS, Vt. — Construction is set to begin in April on the first new building in decades at a long-vacant brownfield site just north of downtown St. Albans.

The 10,000-square-foot building, on a portion of the site at 15-21 Lower Newton St., is expected to house the railroad company Genesee & Wyoming’s American Rail Dispatch Center, now located on Federal Street near the St. Albans Amtrak station.

The dispatch center employs about 60 people. Workers manage the movement of trains and on-track equipment throughout the United States and Canada, according to Tom Ciuba, a spokesperson for Genesee & Wyoming.

St. Albans owns the site of the planned dispatch center but plans to sell it to Connor Contracting, a firm that’s based in the city, said City Manager Dominic Cloud. The contractor then will lease part of the site to the railroad company.

“They were considering leaving the city,” Cloud said of Genesee & Wyoming. “And we were able to retain them by putting together a package for them to relocate.”

The entire 5.5-acre site on Lower Newton Street housed paper product manufacturing starting in the 1940s, according to state officials. Its most recent tenant, the Fonda Container Co. — a subsidiary of Solo Cup Co. — ended operations there in 2005. “Brownfield” is a term for property that’s been contaminated by industrial or commercial use.

St. Albans purchased the site two years later and demolished its buildings in 2011, opening the site up for redevelopment. But it’s been vacant ever since, Cloud said.

In 2020, city voters approved a $1 million bond to fund cleanup and development at the site. The city also received state and federal grants for the project.

The railroad dispatch center will occupy about a third of the site, so the city is still looking for a tenant for the remaining two-thirds, Cloud said. Officials hope that, once part of the property has been developed, there will be more interest in the rest of it.

One barrier to development at the Fonda site has been the presence of contaminants in the soil and groundwater. Environmental site assessments have found chemicals there, including asbestos, metals, PCBs, semi-volatile organic compounds and chlorinated volatile organic compounds.

The city has finished cleanup work on the portion of the site where the railroad building is planned, Cloud said, and officials are waiting for final state approval. They plan to begin cleanup work on the rest of the site in April alongside construction of the new office building, he said.

Shawn Donovan, manager of the Fonda site project for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the remaining cleanup process will be more complicated in part because that area has higher levels of PCBs. These chemicals are largely concentrated where the site’s former manufacturers stored the inks used in their products, he said.

“There’s a direct correlation there between the use of the PCB-containing materials and what we’re seeing as residual impacts,” Donovan said.

According to planning documents, the new building would be one story and have a 42-space parking lot. It would sit on the northernmost of two lots on the site.

Ciuba said the company’s new dispatch center there will be more modern and energy-efficient than its existing building. The railroad company expects to move into the new space in December, he said.

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