Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Asbestos Cleanup Underway at Minnesota Fire Site

In January of this year, a fire destroyed several businesses along Main Street in rural Austin, Minnesota. After nearly nine months of waiting to start the demolition process and reclaim the lots, workers were forced to stop on the very first day. The sites were scheduled for demolition this month, but the work has been halted due to the discovery of asbestos at several of the ruined buildings. As the contractors were winding down for their lunch break, they discovered asbestos insulation among the debris.
Austin City Public Works Director Jon Erichson said that such occurrences are somewhat common and that the demolition plans have accommodated for the potential of asbestos abatement and removal in their scheduling. He also said that, after the asbestos has been safely removed from the site, workers would excavate the existing soil, and then fill the new holes with layers of topsoil and a sand-like substance in order to insure that the area meets strict environmental standards. After that, workers will seed the new topsoil with grass seed to maintain the soil cohesion and integrity.
Ever since the fire, the legal arguments between the city and the owner of the Mi Tierra site, listed as Ms. Maria Leon, have bogged down any future plans to restore the area. The total costs to demolish the site are estimated to be well over $100,000, with almost $10,000 going towards asbestos remediation and removal. As part of a court settlement last June, Ms. Leon will be expected to cover a substantial portion of the cleanup costs. In return, the city has granted Ms. Leon and her attorneys the power to look over and approve any bids and costs for restoring the site as work progresses. Before the court's ruling, Ms. Leon had previously refused to clean up the site, in spite of several requests from city officials who considered the site a hazard and an eyesore.
One of the businesses that adjoined the Mi Tierra site was Marty's Hobbycraft. The owner, Ms. Marty Miland, was also unsure of the future of her business. Although workers have not yet discovered any asbestos contamination at her site, the water damage her shop incurred due to the firefighters' efforts has left her unable to re-open her business. The nearby cleanup efforts at Mi Tierra, combined with the high costs of restoring her own site, have left her unsure of her options.
The fire occurred on January 15 at the Mi Tierra Market. On what was the coldest day of the year, firefighters responded to several alarms at the former site of a Hispanic grocery store. A month later, after an investigation by police detectives and fire department specialists, city officials announced that they had classified the fire as arson. At this time, police have not yet named any suspects or announced any leads in the case. According to Mr. Erichson, the demolition project is still on schedule to be completed early next month at the outside, with hopes that it will wrap up by late September.

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