BENNINGTON — The new owners of the Vermont Tissue Paper mill hydroelectric facility have completed purchase of the property and are bringing the idle generating turbines back online.
“We closed last week,” said Arion Thiboumery, manager of the new ownership entity, North Bennington Hydroelectic, LLC. “We’ve started working on the facility already.”
In fact, Thiboumery said during a tour Wednesday of the old paper mill and adjacent hydro plant on Route 67A, one of the two generating turbines is now operating and producing electricity.
Work is continuing to remove a considerable amount of silt and debris from the intake area for the second turbine, he said, but it appears that one can also be restarted.
He said silt removal thus far amounted to some 80 to 100 cubic yards of material, the use of excavating equipment from Kingsbury Construction Co., and having an M&K Commercial Diving team work on the turbine intake areas in deep water behind the dam.
Some of that work began under a lease agreement prior to the sale, Thiboumery said, adding that his company hopes to have the plant fully operational by the end of the year.
The hydro facility at the old mill, which had been dormant for decades, was restored and licensed by the late Bill Scully and his wife, Maria. It was brought back online and began producing electricity in 2016.
However, a 2018 drilling accident in the bed of the Walloomsac River, just upstream from the hydro plant, churned up silt around the intake areas for the turbines, and the facility has remained inactive since then.
Scully had shut down the turbines as a precaution prior to the high air-pressure drilling accident, which resulted in a “blow-out” into the river near the Paper Mill Village covered bridge, and about 40 feet from the mill dam and hydro plant.
The hydro plant was never restarted afterward, while Scully and his managing company, Carbon Zero, LLC, and the construction companies involved disputed liability for the accident – including the costs of any damage to the turbines and to restart the plant.
Scully died of cancer in July 2020, and Carbon Zero came to an agreement in November 2020 to sell the facility and the land to North Bennington Hydroelectric.
Thiboumery, of Plainfield, said in announcing the agreement that he and others in a group have invested in hydroelectric and solar generating facilities around the region.
The real estate itself sold Oct. 27 for $100,000, according to town property records. But Thiboumery said his company also paid “considerably more” for the hydro facility and its federal licensing, which he has had transferred to North Bennington Hydroelectric.
He declined to specify the amount of the transaction.
No agreement on liability related to the drilling accident was reached between Carbon Zero and the contractors, and the company this spring filed suit in Bennington Superior Court Civil Division. Named in the suit were the project engineers and contractors, MSK Engineering and Design Inc., W.M. Schultz Construction Inc., of Ballston Spa, N.Y., and PDD Contracting, LLC., of East Greenbush, N.Y.
The Carbon Zero complaint seeks damages for the company’s losses related to the accident.
WATER LINE WORK
The 2018 drilling project was intended to create a channel for a new town water line to extend from Route 67A to Murphy Road under the Walloomsac.
The work was part of a larger project to extend town water to Bennington properties where wells had been contaminated with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which, according to state environmental officials, emanated from the exhaust stacks of two former ChemFab Corp. plants in town – one of which was located at Water Street (Route 67A) and River Road in North Bennington.
Contractors later drilled under the Walloomsac in another location to provide a water line connection to Murphy Road.
The town of Bennington is a customer for discounted power credits from the electricity produced at the hydro plant — going toward town buildings, including the Recreation Center, the town water treatment plant on Route 9, the police station, the Bennington Firehouse, the Senior Center, town offices and the Morgan Springs facility on Bradford Street.
The hydro plant has a power generating capacity of 365 kilowatts.
The 80-foot paper mill dam was constructed in 1887. The hydro facility was last used in 1986, before Scully purchased the abandoned mill property in 2009 and began restoring the hydro plant.