The city says they are prepared to move forward with the demolition and cleanup of the former Law Enforcement Center, but the contractor in charge says work was halted by the state due to possible contamination.
Lakeside Builders began demolition of the property, which was deemed a dangerous building by the city, on Tuesday, Dec. 3. The city had given property owners J.T.M. Properties until Saturday, Dec. 14 to have the building demolished before they would step in and complete the work, assessing the costs back to the owners.
At the Tuesday, Dec. 10 meeting of the Williston City Commission, the city took an apparent step forward on the project by awarding a contracting bid to demolition contractors National Civil in the event that the timeline was not met.
“This was a tricky proposition because we don’t own that property,” City Administrator David Tuan told the commission. “But this has gone through the dangerous building process, and it’s been deemed an unsafe structure. We’ve asked the property owner and entered into a contractual agreement with them, by which they are required to demolition the property by a fixed date. That date is fast approaching, so as a backup plan where the city can then enter the property and complete the demolition and assess the charge to the landowner, it was wise for us to have some bids in hand in order to do that.”
Joe LaFave, owner of Lakeside Builders, says work would have progressed more, had it not been for intervention from the state. LaFave says the state halted the project on Thursday, Dec. 5 after it was discovered that the site contained vermiculite insulation, which LaFave says is known to contain asbestos.
“The city’s deadline means nothing to me,” LaFave told the Williston Herald. “I am not willing to move forward, whether the city wants me to or not, on demolishing a building when the air quality that’s going to be blowing around the neighborhood could have asbestos in it, and get sucked in through the mechanical systems of McVay School and all of the residents’ homes throughout the area will have asbestos on their kitchen table.”
LaFave said he contacted Badlands Environmental Consultants in Bismarck, who was sending a representative who would be conducting air quality and asbestos tests throughout the facility to ensure that the building is safe to be torn down.
“Until that happens, I’m not tearing it down and neither should anybody else.” LaFave said.
Tuan said he was unaware of a possible asbestos contamination, but added that any asbestos removal and the building’s demolition are the responsibility of the property owner. It is the city’s hope, he said, that the property owner will follow all state requirements and regulations before continuing any demolition.
With the deadline on the property’s demolition still looming, Tuan said the possible asbestos contamination has little effect on the city’s ability to finish the demolition themselves, though it could mean the job won’t be done as quickly as they’d hoped.
“The asbestos removal requirements are absolute; they’re governed by the state, so it doesn’t really matter who’s doing the demolition, you have to meet those requirements regardless,” he explained. “Our expectation with the contract that we signed with the property owner was for the demo to be completed to a certain extent. So if they don’t meet any of those requirements, what will happen is the city can then elect to come in and finish the work and then bill the property owner. If there’s still asbestos removal to do and (the property owner) doesn’t have that done, then the city would have to check that box and do that too.”
Tuan said that the city is still holding to the current deadline of Dec. 14, and if work is not completed by that time, the city can begin the process of completing it on their own.
“What happens after that is really the opportunity for the city to do the work,” he said. “Everything takes a bit of time; it’s going to take (Lakeside Builders) a bit of time to leave and get their stuff out of there, it’s going to take the city some some to mobilize in, and if there is some health department coordination that has to happen, that’ll take a bit of time, too. At the end of the business day on the 14th, it just starts the wheels in motion on our process to be able to complete the work on behalf of the community so that it’s finished properly.”