Cleanup of downtown Belleville fire site is delayed again

News-DemocratJuly 24, 2013 

— Cleanup at the site of a 2010 fire downtown was set to start July 17, but the process was delayed again.

A judge ruled in May that Ronnie Phillips, the property owner of 205 E. Main St., had to remove the asbestos and debris left at "the hole" at Jackson and Main streets after two buildings were demolished after the fire.

The other property, at 201 E. Main St., is owned by Chester Nance.

Phillip's attorney, Penni Livingston, said Wednesday that Phillips wanted Envirotech to do the cleanup but Nance thought the company's bid was too high.

Nance could not be reached for comment.

Livingston said the cost of removing the asbestos is estimated at $43,000 and filling the site with dirt to grade level will cost more. The property owners are seeking other bids.

Julie Bruch, the attorney representing the city of Belleville, said Wednesday the city is giving Phillips until the end of the week to resolve things with Nance.

The city has the option to do the cleanup and bill Phillips for the work, based on the judge's ruling, Bruch said.

"Hopefully we don't have to get to that and they can just work it out among themselves," Bruch said.

Here's a timeline of events:

May 26, 2010: Fire destroys 201 and 205 E. Main St. in Belleville, home to Classic Curl, Hilltop Emporium and Chestnut Health Systems.

Within hours, Mayor Mark Eckert has Hank's Excavating and Landscaping demolish what is left of the structure. The mayor says he is concerned that damaged walls would fall and hurt pedestrians.

June 2010: Fire investigation reveals that an accelerant was found in front of Classic Curl, where the fire started. The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal says the fire is a case of arson, but no one has been charged.

Aug. 6, 2010: The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency cites the city of Belleville, the two property owners and Hank's Excavating for failure to check for asbestos before demolition and notifying the agency.

May 2011: Property owner Ronnie Phillips sues the city of Belleville for tearing down his building without his approval. The city sues Phillips -- but not the other property owner, Chester Nance -- asking him to pay for the demolition and other costs.

Nov. 19, 2012: The City Council decides not to put up a fence around the site. Some aldermen said the "hole" was unsafe and the city could be liable if anyone fell in. Other aldermen said that putting up a fence will indicate that city leaders take responsibility for what occurs at the site, jeopardizing the city's lawsuit against Phillips.

Dec. 11, 2012: St. Clair County Judge Vincent Lopinot made a ruling on lawsuit city filed against Phillips to clean up the site. Lopinot ruled that city officials had the right to demolish the buildings for safety reasons after the fire, but did not say which party was responsible for the cleanup.

May 21, 2013: Lopinot ruled that Phillips has 30 days to remove the asbestos on the site or the city can hire someone to do the work and bill Phillips.

June 20, 2013: The city gave Phillips a seven-day extension to hire a contractor for the cleanup. Phillips tells the city that Envirotech will start the work on July 17 and it will take up to 10 days to complete. The city will repair the sidewalk after the "hole" is refilled with dirt to grade level.

July 17, 2013: Cleanup did not start. Phillips' attorney said Nance agrees to help pay for the cleanup but wants to seek lower bids from contractors.

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