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The Old Pillsbury Mills Saga / October 2021 Update

I personally became involved with the Old Pillsbury Mills saga in October of 2014 when the owners pulled down the multi-story dryer building at the old flour mill. They were scraping out the metal from the property for profit. That incident prompted neighbors nearby to call 911 as a large dust cloud engulfed the area. They were afraid workers at the site may have been hurt. I listened on my emergency radio as fire and police crews responded to the scene. As it turned out, none of the owners or workers at the site were injured from the building collapse that day. The injuries sustained by the neighborhood and Greater Springfield community, however, would soon be apparent.

An investigation started shortly after the October 2014 incident. It was found that the owners had not removed asbestos from the dryer building prior to the purposeful October collapse. Furthermore, it was found that the owners had not been following prescribed demolitions procedures when demolishing buildings containing asbestos and other environmental hazards. The investigation eventually led to a federal criminal trial that resulted in a negotiated guilty plea and a two-year prison sentence. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency exercised its authority and placed an injunction on the property in late 2015. The Pillsbury Mills owners were locked out and barred from entry into the site until they could show the court a plan for environmental testing and cleanup. Six years later, that injunction is still in-place. No plan has been developed. The court proceedings continue. The injury to the surrounding community persists.

In six years’ time quite a lot has happened at the site. Four years ago, the US EPA was brought in to clean up the bulk contamination. Since that time trespassing became common. Thieves entered with regularity to continue harvesting metal for scrap. Thrill seekers climb to the top of buildings just for fun. Weeds and brush grew so large that people made jokes about the “Pillsbury Wildlife Sanctuary” in northeast Springfield. And, as a community, our hearts ached for several days in October of 2019 when a newsworthy dog made its way to the top of the silos barking for help.

Shortly after the dog incident a community movement developed to help resolve the protracted community challenge of the Old Pillsbury Mills. Volunteers from throughout the area studied the issue. Community meetings were held. Recommendations were given to local leaders. A reasonable 5-year plan was developed to remove the Old Pillsbury Mills structures and prepare the 18-acre site for redevelopment. Moving Pillsbury Forward is now a community based not-for-profit that continues to lead the project.

I am often asked “What are the next steps?” The answer: Have patience while the court process plays out and be prepared to help when the legal dust cloud eventually settles. Not a savory answer for anyone. Then again, neither is the reality of living with the blight that is the Old Pillsbury Mills. Here is what I know…Moving Pillsbury Forward will keep pushing this issue forward with resolve…our community is worth the effort. We appreciate your support and patience.

Chris Richmond
President, Moving Pillsbury Forward, NFP
pillsburyproject.org