Tuesday, April 23, 2024

More taxpayer money being spent on old hospital

DEQ wants answers

In a vote of 2 to 1, the Stillwater County Commissioners decided Tuesday morning to continue to pour money into the old hospital.
Ignoring the county’s own legal advisor and the objection of Commissioner Mark Crago, Commissioners Maureen Davey and Dennis Shupak voted to move forward with seeking requests for proposals/qualifications to secure an asbestos abatement consultant.
An abatement consultant is needed because approximately 15,000 square feet of asbestos-containing material was found in the old hospital — some of which was disturbed and inappropriately disposed of during demolition work conducted within the last two years.
Davey and Shupak want to remodel the old hospital for county office space, despite a lack of public support for that plan.
Whatever happens with the building, the county is responsible for remediating the asbestos, which could run as much as $200,000. There is federal grant money available for such remediation, which would mean taxpayers would not have to pay anything. That remediation grant would take approximately one year to apply for and receive, if successful.
County Economic Development Coordinator Marissa Hauge said at Tuesday’s meeting that she didn’t understand why the county wouldn’t apply for the remediation grant, considering it has already completed Phase 1 of a grant-funded assessment of the structure done in early March by Weston Solutions, Inc., Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team (START) out of Colorado.
Crago agreed with Hauge and strongly expressed his stance on the issue of spending any more money on the building. Crago also said he doesn’t think the building ever needs to be worked in again and wants to quit wasting taxpayer money.
Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde also voiced strong objection to spending more county money, saying more information needs to be gathered first before trying to obtain a bid for abatement, such as if the county is going to sell, demolish or renovate the building. Before that is determined, Rohde said obtaining a RFP is premature.
In attendance at the meeting for another matter was Columbus resident Richard Sidwell, who offered his comments on the topic.
“Why do you keep beating a dead horse?” said Sidwell. “The two of you are voting against what the public wants…Move on.”
Sidwell was referring to Davey and Shupak.
Davey, who participated in the meeting via phone, said she knows some people don’t want to see the county use the building, but she wants to keep moving forward. She also said the public thinks the building is not being taking care of “the way the taxpayers want us to.”
Following the discussion, Davey moved to approve the motion to go forward with seeking requests for proposals/qualifications, which was quickly seconded by Shupak. Crago voted no and Rohde noted for the record that the decision had been made against the county’s legal advisor.

When the matter of seeking requests for proposals/qualifications to secure an asbestos abatement consultant was presented at Tuesday morning’s regular commissioner agenda meeting, it was presented as a topic that came on a request from the facilities supervisor.
When asked if the topic was actually the result of a letter from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to the commission sent earlier this month, that answer changed slightly.
“Kind of,” was Commissioner Dennis Shupak’s response.
In a DEQ letter to the commissioners dated June 5, 2017, the commission was instructed to obtain an asbestos accredited inspection of the old hospital.
And it wasn’t DEQ’s first correspondence with the commission concerning the building.
In a letter dated Oct. 26, 2016, addressed to Commissioner Maureen Davey, DEQ stated its enforcement division had received a complaint about renovations taking place at the old hospital in which an asbestos inspection may not have been performed by an accredited inspector, which is a violation of the Asbestos Control Act and the Administrative Rules of Montana (ARM).
The DEQ letter also asked about a complaint of asbestos-containing materials being removed from the building and disposed without the proper permitting. And finally, the letter inquired about workers not wearing personal protective equipment while working in the building.
That letter also indicated DEQ had already been in contact with the county.
“On September 22, 2016, a letter was sent to provide you with the steps necessary to ensure compliance with the ARM,” stated the letter.
On November 22, 2016, DEQ received a response from the commission, stating that “to date, no renovations have been done, only demolition and great care has been taken to not disturb any of the material identified as containing asbestos,” according to the letter.
Sent with that letter were copies of inspections conducted by Northern Industrial Hygiene Inc. in 2005, 2006 and 2009 for the Stillwater Community Hospital.
DEQ responded back to the commission with a letter dated Nov. 30, 2016, which stated “The information provided indicates that the work which has occurred to this point has not impacted the materials which have been found to contain asbestos,” and the complaint was closed.
On June 5, 2017, DEQ sent another letter to the commission, stating there had been additional complaints received that indicated the work done at the site was “more extensive then what was previously indicated” and that asbestos-containing materials may have been impacted during work, and disposed of improperly, without the proper permitting or DEQ notification.
The DEQ letter also states that a DEQ accredited asbestos inspector must conduct an inspection prior to any further demolition or renovation and that report must be made available to DEQ.
DEQ also instructed the commission that an asbestos project permit must be obtained if any renovation material has been determined to contain asbestos.
This week, DEQ confirmed for the News it had sent the letters.
Before the June 5 letter from DEQ, Davey emailed Montana Association of Counties Executive Director Harold Blattie on May 22 in which she wrote “New commissioner and CA are teaming up to drag the hospital issue out. Very frustrating.”
In an email from Blattie to DEQ’s Ed Thamke on that same day, Blattie wrote “I am forwarding correspondence from Stillwater County about a possible asbestos issue. Looks like the county maintenance staff may have unwittingly disturbed some asbestos. Also looks like the county attorney may be overreacting, but who knows. The use of the old hospital by the county (who owns the building) is a very politically charged issued with the CA and the commissioners being on opposing ends of the spectrum.”
The commissioners did not respond to questions regarding the DEQ letters by press time Wednesday.