Crews remove asbestos from 'The Hole' in downtown Belleville

News-DemocratOctober 29, 2013 

After a fire on May 26, 2010, Belleville city leaders demolished two buildings deemed unsafe at 205 E. Main St. The owners went to court over the action and the drawn-out battle left the city with a downtown eyesore through years of public festivals and Christmas shopping seasons. Work finally began Monday to fill 'The Hole."

BRAD WEISENSTEIN/BND

— Weeds, debris and asbestos have been removed from what is known as "The Hole" on East Main Street in downtown Belleville.

The site of a May 26, 2010, fire will be filled and graded with dirt once the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency does an inspection to see if the asbestos is gone, according to the contractor hired for the cleanup.

The fire destroyed 201 and 205 E. Main St., home to Classic Curl, Hilltop Emporium and Chestnut Health Systems. Shortly after the fire, Mayor Mark Eckert ordered the demolition of the buildings.

David Mertzke, of Mertzke Trucking & Excavating Co. in O'Fallon, said Tuesday that it is unclear when the IEPA will inspect the site. The IEPA could not be reached for comment.

Mertzke said the dirt hauling also will be delayed if it rains.

"We'll fill it with dirt, put some grass there to grow and hope it rains," Mertzke said.

Contractor CCI Environmental Inc., of Hazelwood, Mo., removed the asbestos Tuesday morning, Mertzke said.

Eckert said he is happy to see progress at the site. The city will put in a new sidewalk at East Main and Jackson streets once the cleanup is done, Eckert said.

"The people of downtown Belleville has had to deal with it for a long time and it seems like everything is coming to completion here in a few days," Eckert said. "Hopefully everything will be in good shape by the holidays."

After a protracted legal battle between the city and the building owners over who would pay for the cleanup, St. Clair County Judge Vincent Lopinot ruled that Ronnie Phillips, owner of 205 E. Main St., is responsible for cleaning and grading the site.

Lopinot said the city had the right to order demolition of the buildings after the fire for safety reasons.

Phillips, however, maintains the city wrongfully ordered the demolition of his building. He is appealing the court order in the Fifth District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon.

In the meantime, Phillips and Chester Nance, owner of 201 E. Main St., hired Mertzke to fill in the site.

Phillips and Nance will share the cost of the debris and asbestos cleanup, which will cost an estimated $44,500.

Phillips and Nance also continue to face property nuisance cases filed by the city. Each owner could be fined $250 to $1,000 per day from June 2, 2010, for having overgrown weeds on their property.

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

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