Negotiations over Vermont Asbestos Group’s operations on Belvidere Mountain were settled in October 2013 — Howard Manosh’s company would have 10 years to pay $50,000 toward cleaning up its 1,550-acre toxic waste site.
However, the state was still open to suggestions about what could be done there, and after four years, Manosh may have found a solution — though it could take years more to come into fruition.
Plans are still preliminary.
At its peak, the Vermont Asbestos Group mine on the Eden-Lowell town line employed 320 people and was one of the largest producers of white asbestos in the world.
Despite early successes, Manosh — a Morrisville entrepreneur — says his 1978 investment in the Vermont Asbestos Group probably tops his list of failed ventures. The mine turned a good profit for a decade after he and other members of the Vermont Asbestos Group took over the operation, but it began to fail once the health threats of asbestos became known.
The mineral was used in construction materials, brake pads and roadways until researchers found that lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis could all be triggered by breathing in the flaky fibers.
The asbestos mine in Eden and Lowell shut down in 1993 — after the market tanked — but a century of operation left a scar on the side of Belvidere Mountain that can be seen for miles — a gray mound on the otherwise vegetation-covered slope.
For years, the state government has been trying to deal with the hazards of huge piles of asbestos tailings, as water runoff could carry tailings toward two nearby watersheds.
In 2007 and 2008, the federal Environmental Protection Agency jumped in, constructing waterbars, diversion trenches, berms and culverts to contain the dangerous materials.
Five years later, the EPA was called back to address a deteriorating storage building filled with dry asbestos ore.
Under the 2013 agreement, Vermont Asbestos Group pledged to make its “best efforts” to pay back the state and federal governments for past cleanup and mitigation efforts, using insurance money. The Asbestos Group agreed to a judgment of $3,360,082.60 to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and $174,620 to the state for its prior costs.
In addition, the group agreed to pay $50,000 in cash over the next decade to cover existing erosion mitigation measures and security for the mine.
Now, Manosh is looking to pack up the materials and truck asbestos nearly 100 miles to Groveton, N.H. — a plan the EPA is on board with.
The goal: To extract about 75,000 cubic yards per year of the 25 million to 50 million yards — 30 million tons —of asbestos tailings and transport them to Groveton. There, the material would be put through an energy-intensive process to convert it into chemicals for use in manufacturing, specifically magnesium oxide and hydroxides.
A number of barriers stand in Manosh’s way, but he’s removing them one by one.
The 2013 settlement agreement prohibits movement of tailings offsite, the generation of dust, and the spread of asbestos outside the area.
And the production facility in New Hampshire, where the tailings would be processed, doesn’t exist yet.
“This project is not a done deal,” Manosh said. “Groveton doesn’t have a plant yet. I still need permission to move material offsite. These things take time.”
Manosh has been working with the state on this plan for several years, and doubts a processing plant will be constructed until at least 2020.
He looked at building a plant right at the mine to make the operation easier, but because the process of converting asbestos into usable material is so energy-intensive, and requires a natural gas pipeline, it couldn’t be done at the mine.
Manosh also tried to put the plant in a St. Albans industrial park, but obtaining Act 250 permits proved too cumbersome, he said.
Groveton was built largely around a big paper mill, which has gone out of business. The town needs jobs, “so they are welcoming (the asbestos processing plant) with open arms,” Manosh said.
George Sheldrick, an Eden Select Board member, was concerned about road damage from all the truck traffic involved in moving the asbestos tailings, but Manosh hopes to avoid Eden roads by taking a route north on Mine Road to Route 58 in Lowell toward Interstate 91.
If the need arose to travel through Eden, state Rep. Gary Nolan, R-Morristown, a Manosh employee, said the select board could negotiate with Vermont Asbestos on compensation for any road damage.
The plan: a single daily shift of eight to 10 hours six days per week, sending 15 to 17 trucks per day to Groveton from May through November until all the material has been removed.
The asbestos tailings will be wetted 10 to 15 percent to prevent dust during extraction, and once loaded onto each truck, the tailings will not see the light of day again.
All the tailings will be unloaded inside a closed facility for processing.
After removal, the asbestos mine land can be reclaimed, and Manosh thinks it would be a good location for a solar array, an idea he looked at a few years ago.
All plans are still tentative.
However, financing has been arranged, and both the state and the EPA have endorsed the plan. Nolan told the Lowell Select Board last month that Manosh had the go-ahead on the project as long as he could get support from both Eden and Lowell.
After multiple meetings, the Lowell Select Board unanimously agreed to sign a letter of support for the mine cleanup on July 25, and Eden followed suit at a meeting held Monday, Aug. 14.