Belleville to start cleanup of the 'hole' if owners don't hire contractor by Friday

News-DemocratAugust 8, 2013 

A pedestrian walks past 'the hole' on East Main Street in this BND file photo.

ZIA NIZAMI — znizami@bnd.com Buy Photo

— The city of Belleville is giving the owners of a downtown fire site until noon Friday to hire a contractor to clean the property or it will step in and do it.

The two property owners, Ronnie Phillips and Chester Nance, have asked for more time to find less expensive ways to do the court-ordered asbestos cleanup and grading of the "hole" at East Main and Jackson streets.

Julie Bruch, an attorney representing the city, said in an email Tuesday that the city wants proof the owners have hired a contractor, with specific start and end dates for the work.

Otherwise, the city will go ahead and hire a contractor to do the work and bill Phillips, as allowed by a court order, Bruch said.

"The city has already obtained its own quotes for the work..." Bruch stated.

Nance said Thursday that he does not want the city to interfere and plans to protest the city "trespassing" on his property.

"They had better not cross onto my property without letting me know," Nance said. "They would be looking at another lawsuit. I'll be out there with a sign that says 'No trespassing.' ... You're not going to walk over Chester Nance."

Mayor Mark Eckert said the city stands by the court order.

Philliips owns 205 E. Main St. and Nance owns 201 E. Main St.

Nance's property is about a third of the space of the "hole" and he has agreed to pay for a third of the cleanup.

Nance said he would prefer hiring a contractor that he and Phillips agree on because the city's contractor could cost more.

"We don't know what the city's bid is," Nance said. "Who knows? The city might say it's $100,000. I'm not paying that kind of money."

Nance said he's concerned that the city's contractor will price the project too high and he won't be able to pay for the work. If that happens, the city will file a lien on his property and eventually take his property away from him.

Earlier this month, Phillips got bids that estimated the asbestos removal to be more than $50,000 and grading and seeding $30,000.

Nance said he suggested a friend of his -- who is licensed to do asbestos remediation and has done demolition projects in St. Louis -- and he is willing to do the work for $60,000.

Nance said Thursday afternoon he is waiting to hear from Phillips.

Phillips referred comment to his attorney, Penni Livingston, who could not be immediately reached Thursday.

Livingston said in an email Tuesday that Phillips and Nance have not decided on a contractor.

Cleanup of the site was supposed to start mid-July, after Phillips was granted a previous extension, but Nance wanted Phillips to seek lower bids for the project.

St. Clair County Judge Vincent Lopinot ruled in the city's favor in May, giving Phillips 30 days to remove the asbestos and overgrown weeds, and fill the site with dirt to grade level.

Phillips is appealing Lopinot's decision in the Fifth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon.

Nance was not named in the lawsuit the city filed against Phillips for demolition and cleanup costs.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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