TURIN — The Lewis County Board of Legislators will vote tonight on cleaning up the Brick Block rubble left after the row of buildings was leveled in the wake of an overnight fire on March 31.
According to the resolution added to the monthly meeting agenda, even before the fire, the building at the corner of East Main Street and State Route 26 also known as State Street, was condemned as an “unsafe structure” in 2008, the same year two out of three owners bought the property. In 2014, the county codes department indicated there were “structural issues pertaining to the heating system, plumbing and electrical systems” that triggered the interior of the building to be condemned as well.
Other sections of the building were designated as being in stages of “disrepair and in danger of collapse” and were missing windows and doors making any occupancy unsafe, the resolution said.
Although the codes department condemned the entire structure, Rose McKenna, majority owner of the buildings, spoke to legislators both in a General Services Committee meeting and in a monthly meeting of the board in 2019 to say that she still intended to renovate the building and that she believed someone was sabotaging the structure.
Ms. McKenna did not have insurance on the building but claimed after the fire in an interview that she had been storing some antiques in her section of the building despite the lack of security and that she had been told by people living near the structure that groups of young men had been going in, stealing metal and doing drugs in the building.
She believes it may have been some of these people who caused the fire, however, she said she could not get any indication if a cause was found.
The county and village Mayor Joshua Leviker brought in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency representatives to assess the site and test for dangerous substances.
While most of the materials tested clean, the asbestos that was found in the roofing of one area and in some window sashes contaminated the rest of the materials when the building was leveled, according to County Manager Ryan M. Piche.
Ms. McKenna said she had wanted to salvage some of materials, especially the bricks, and many community members expressed interest in the bricks, beams and other lumber that could be seen as reusable, however, the EPA recommended that because of the asbestos contamination risk, the debris should be hauled by a company certified to deal with asbestos-contaminated material.
The resolution states that County Attorney Joan McNichol informed Ms. McKenna what she would have to do to clean up the site and the county’s intention to do so but that her “response did not express an intention for her to clear the site of the hazardous debris and materials.”
The county, citing a 2007 local law that allows them to take “emergency action” when there is “a clear and imminent danger to life, safety or health of any person or property unless the unsafe structure is immediately addressed,” called for an emergency public hearing to be held at 5 p.m. at the start of the meeting along with the three other public hearings being conducted at that time, after which they intend to pass the resolution to proceed with cleanup.
Ms. McKenna and representatives of the estates of the other two people with interest in the building, both of whom are now deceased, can make their cases to show why the county should not do the cleanup.
The expenses will be paid by the owners of the property by “assessing all costs and expenses... against the land on which the building was located.”
Ms. McKenna owns four of the six parcels involved in the Brick Block while the estates of Thomas Milstead III and Ronald Dorn own the other two, which are delinquent on taxes.
The costs of the cleanup will be divided proportionately among the three owners, although the other two properties in foreclosure will be transferred to the county.
The money the county plans to use for the cleanup until reimbursement will come from American Rescue Plan Act funds designated for property cleanup.
In a separate resolution, the county is expected to approve Green 2 Green Consulting LLC, 18969 State Route 11, Suite 2, in Watertown, to perform the air monitoring services to detect any asbestos that may be released into the air during the cleanup which is expected to take around 20 days, at a cost of about $10,849, depending on the actual number of days it takes.
Ms. McNichol has also issued requests for proposals for the actual cleanup and refilling work.
Ms. McKenna, who owns another property in Mannsville that is also in need of repair, could not be reached for comment about the cleanup or the county’s actions.
The public hearing will be held at the beginning of the Board of Legislators meeting at 5 p.m. in the second floor board room of the Lewis County Court House, 7660 N. State St.