The Hole is going away: Property owners agree on contractor to clean Belleville fire site

News-DemocratSeptember 11, 2013 

— Two downtown Belleville property owners have a tentative contract with an O'Fallon company to clean and grade the hole left by a 2010 fire.

Ronnie Phillips and Chester Nance are finalizing a contract with Mertzke Trucking & Excavating and the work could start in early October.

"We're anxious to get it done," Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said. "I wanted it done yesterday but I'm happy to say it sounds like we're getting some progress."

The contractor must notify and get approval from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency at least 10 days before workers remove the asbestos from the property at East Main and Jackson streets, and fill and seed the pit.

The contractor also will work with Belleville City Engineer Tim Gregowicz to secure the site and coordinate street closings during the work.

Phillips' attorney, Penni Livingston, said Mertzke will charge $44,500 for the work. And, Mertzke will use CCI Environmental Inc. to do the asbestos remediation.

The total bid is lower than previous estimates -- upward of $80,000 -- because Phillips found someone to donate the dirt, Livingston said.

Phillips owns 205 E. Main St., or roughly two-thirds of the property, and he will pay for two-thirds of the work. Nance, who owns 201 E. Main St., will pay for one-third of the work.

St. Clair County Judge Vincent Lopinot earlier ruled that the city of Belleville had the right to order demolition of the buildings after the fire for safety reasons. In May, Lopinot said in a court order that Phillips had 30 days to clean and grade the site.

Since the court order, Phillips asked for multiple extensions. Most recently, he and Nance wanted more time to get lower bids for the work.

Nance mentioned in August he had a friend, Mertzke, who could do the work for less than bids Phillips received.

Phillips is appealing the decision in the Fifth District Appellate Court. He believes the city did not have the right to have his building demolished and without notice to the IEPA.

Livingston has asked for guarantees that the city will not challenge the cleanup cost if Phillips' case is reversed on appeal.

Livingston also asked the city to dismiss the property nuisance cases against Phillips and Nance.

Attorney Julie Bruch, on behalf of the city, told Livingston that $44,500 is a "reasonable" cost for the cleanup and the city will not challenge the amount.

Bruch also said in an email the city would not drop the nuisance violations and request for fines until the work is completed in a timely fashion.

Eckert said the city's desire is to see the nuisances go away. However, he came up short of saying the city will agree to remove all fines.

Phillips and Nance could be fined $250 to $1,000 per day from June 2, 2010.

"Once we get it cleaned up, we'll discuss the nuisance charges then," Eckert said on Wednesday. "The city's feeling all along is we just want it cleaned up. We just want it to look like a decent city lot until one day, I hope, they develop it.

"But I'm not putting the cart before the horse until we see the job done and the job done right," Eckert added. "When that happens we'll certainly consider taking care of those charges at that time. We'll discuss it with them at that time."

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at

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. Phillips has said he will clean up the property though he is appealing Lopinot's decision.

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.

Aug. 19, 2013: City cites Chester Nance and his Cenman Properties Inc. with four nuisance complaints for violating a city ordinance for having weeds more than 8 inches tall at the site. He and Phillips, who faces a similar lawsuit, could be fined $250 to $1,000 for every day they are found to be in violation.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service