By Katy Savage
The Vermont Farmer Food Center on West Street in Rutland has been ordered to shut down after failing to submit a work plan to the state to remediate a contamination problem.
Kimberly Caldwell, an environmental analyst at the Department of Environmental Conservation, said the owners of the property missed a Jan. 17 to submit documentation detailing the next steps of the remediation process. Caldwell sent the owners a letter on Jan. 20, requiring them to vacate the Farmers Hall building on the property within 24 hours and inform all tenants of the property that they could not enter the building.
“That’s the next step after we don’t receive a requested deliverable,” said Caldwell, who said she consulted with the state’s legal team.
“We determined that we did have the authority to order them to stop use of the building under our emergency corrective actions rule,” said Caldwell.
The Vermont Farmers Market, the largest tenant of the property, canceled its weekly market on Saturday, Jan. 22. The market will move to the Cortina Inn on Holiday Drive in Rutland starting Jan. 29 with normal hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“It’s been pretty tough,” said Paul Horton, the owner of Foggy Meadow Produce and head of the Vermont Farmers Market.
About 60 vendors rely on the market for income and about 500-600 customers attend the market every week.
Horton said vendors spoke to customers face to face on Jan. 22 and informed them the market was closed.
Horton declined to comment about the contamination. “We’re unhappy but we’re continuing to thrive,” Horton said.
Horton said some vendors pulled out of the market because they didn’t want to relocate. “There are some serious financial implications for individual vendors and for the farmers market itself,” he said.
One problem is that the Cortina Inn doesn’t have a commercial kitchen — a requirement for some vendors.
“We’ve taken a beating here, there’s no doubt about that, but the farmers market will thrive,” Horton said.
The contamination was discovered during an environmental study as the Vermont Farmers Food Center sought an expansion.
A Phase II environmental site assessment, prepared by Weston & Sampson Engineers, Inc. on Dec. 29, found high levels of tetrachloroethylene (TCE) in the soil beneath the Farmers Hall building and both TCE and chloroform in indoor air samples collected from the Farmer’s Hall building.
TCE, a carcinogen, is a common ingredient in stain remover, carpet cleaner and other degreasing products. The indoor TCE levels ranged from 1.7 to 21 micrograms per cubic meter, with the highest levels found in the commercial kitchen. The state requires relocation after TCE reaches 2 micrograms per cubic meter.
“That’s our primary concern — the indoor air exposure,” Caldwell said.
Heidi Lynch, the director of the Vermont Farmers Food Center, said she was “caught off guard” by the contamination levels.
“We are feeling for our tenants and our renters,” Lynch said. “We’re doing our best to come through stronger as a whole.”
It’s unclear why the work plan wasn’t submitted by the state’s deadline.
Lynch said consultants have “been doing their best.”
“We’re all doing our best. This was unexpected for all of us to happen,” Lynch said.
The Rutland Regional Planning Commision is paying for the costs of the remediation through its brownfields program.
Ed Bove, the executive director of the planning commission, said about $55,000 has been paid to complete Phase 1 and Phase II studies of the Vermont Farmers Food Center. Bove said he didn’t know if Weston & Sampson knew about the Jan. 17 deadline.
“We don’t coordinate with the consultant,” Bove said. “Everyone is moving as fast as they can on this.”
Attempts to reach Weston & Sampson weren’t successful.
Both the Vermont Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation urged the owners to find a new location for the market in a letter on Dec. 30.
The owners initially wanted to keep using the building for the farmers market with ventilation but Caldwell said no testing or sampling was done to confirm how effective the ventilation was in reducing the contamination. The owners of the property now have until Feb. 21 to submit a work plan saying they’ll do more site work, mitigate the exposure or clean up the contamination. If they don’t, the state could take legal action.