The State closes VFFC, farmers’ market to move | Rutland Reader
The state ordered the closure of the Vermont Farmers Food Center after the organization missed a deadline for a contamination control plan at its West Street facility.
Late last year, tests revealed dangerous levels of trichlorethylene, a known carcinogen, in the air of Farmers Hall, the centre’s main building and home to the winter farmers’ market. The Department of Environmental Conservation recommended that anyone using the building move out “as soon as possible”, but the Farmers’ Market, which is run by a different organization, continued to operate there while the organizers were considering their options. The recommendation was turned into an order Thursday, state officials said, after VFFC missed a Monday deadline to submit a “work plan for further investigation of the site.”
The move means the Winter Farmers’ Market will not take place on Saturday as the Vermont Farmers’ Market moves to Cortina – formerly known as the Holiday Inn.
“Tomorrow we will be going to the food center to pack up and remove our tables,” Vermont Farmers Market president Paul Horton said Friday.
Horton said he was notified of the closure at 6 p.m. Thursday, but talks with the hotel owners were far enough along that they could finalize the deal for next weekend.
“Given the choices we had, this seems to be the best and we are grateful to the people there for having us,” he said. “We certainly hoped we were going to stay in our pitch, but that’s not how it turned out.”
Patricia Coppolino, senior program manager at DEC, said when none of the requested documents are submitted, the department is authorized to take “emergency corrective action procedures,” requiring contaminants to be reduced to levels acceptable or an assurance that people are not exposed. for them. Closing the building, she said, accomplished the latter.
Heidi Lynch, acting executive director of the VFFC, said she could not elaborate on why the organization missed the deadline.
“We’ve never faced situations like this before, and we’re doing everything we can in the right way and in the best way,” she said. “The whole situation is difficult. That’s all it is. It’s complex. … We are all doing our best to handle the situation as best we can.
Similarly, Lynch didn’t have many details on next steps, except to say the organization was working with the state and the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.
“VFFC has been such a positive result of grassroots community support, effort and creativity for a decade now,” she said. “We’re going to be even stronger when we come out the other side.”
The VFFC was the brainchild of Greg Cox, who led the volunteer effort to raise money for the purchase and renovation of the West Street property, which had long been vacant and considered one of the most degraded areas of the city when the organization took it over in 2012. From the start, Cox’s long-term vision included making the location a food hub and incubator space, and the organization announced the last year that it would begin to pursue this objective more actively.
That lawsuit included soil tests that found TCE, a chemical used in industrial degreasers, under the floor of the main building. There was enough contamination in the soil to prompt air tests, which found levels as high as 10 times what the state deems safe. Exposure to TCE has been associated with cancer and congenital heart defects.
Kimberly Caldwell, environmental analyst for DEC, said the organization has until Feb. 21 to submit a plan to investigate the full extent of the contamination.
“From there they can assess how to clean up the contamination,” she said.
Coppolino said VFFC would not be solely responsible for the cleanup.
“I believe they applied for financial assistance from the regional planning commission,” she said. “We asked the previous owners to participate as well – it would be a financial participation.”
State officials said the contamination was likely linked to properties used as a smelter years ago when it was owned by General Electric. Coppolino said Friday that GE claimed never to have used anything containing TCE at the site and that the state has requested documents.
Horton said the closure was a blow to market vendors, who would effectively miss out on wages by not having the market this weekend. He also said some vendors had already pulled out for the season because they were unsure of the health implications of the contamination.
We have a lot of angry and upset people. A lot of bad has been done. I don’t think people realize the damage that has been done. With or without the VFFC, the market will do well. … We will continue to survive and we will prosper.