Press-Republican

January 16, 2013

Asbestos help part of 'Common Sense' law

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Congressman Bill Owens re-introduced legislation before the new 113th Congress on Tuesday to speed help to communities with asbestos-laden buildings.

The Common Sense Waiver Act would empower the Environmental Protection Agency to waive some of its regulations on demolition of contaminated buildings that have been condemned or are on the verge of collapse.

“Since coming to Congress, I’ve worked to help fix or eliminate government regulations that just don’t make sense,” the Plattsburgh Democrat said in a news release. 

“This legislation represents another opportunity to do exactly that.”

‘PERFECT NAME’

The Common Sense Waiver Act is also known as H.R. 204. 

Among the communities that could benefit is the Village of Chateaugay.

Several of officials from that community met with legislators in October 2012, asking for help with a deteriorating building on the northern corner of Route 11 and Route 374.

The structure has been coming apart, and bricks have fallen into the street, which is the main roadway to Chateaugay Central School and the U.S. border with Canada.

Town Supervisor Don Bilow, Village Board member Bob Bessette and others have worried for two years that someone will be hurt or killed by debris as they walk by.

Legislature Chairman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay), who was the mayor of the Village of Chateaugay at the time the building began to rapidly decay, applauds Owens for reintroducing the law and was disappointed the bill did not gain much Congressional attention last year.

“This is the perfect name for it: Common Sense Waiver Act,” Jones said. “What makes more sense? Letting a building fall down and exposing people to injury, or possibly maiming or killing someone because we can’t take a building down ... when the asbestos is going to fly into the air anyway when it falls down, or taking precautions and bringing it down in an orderly manner?”  

TOO COSTLY TO RAZE 

Owens first brought the issue up in 2011 when the former Tavern Arms, also known as Nikki’s Place, collapsed in on itself in downtown Malone.

No one was hurt, but traffic on Route 11 was rerouted for several hours.

The village wanted to raze the structure but could not afford to do so “because of costs and regulations associated with demolishing a building that contains asbestos,” Owens said.

He contacted the EPA, which offered no funding. And it refused to waive its regulations to allow the crumbling building to be brought down and removed safely.

Nikki’s fell down within a few hours, which cleared the way for the EPA to assist with the cleanup.

“Current regulations say if a town or village can’t afford to demolish a building that contains asbestos, their only course of action is to let it fall down,” Owens said.

“That means higher costs and greater risk to public safety, which simply doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“This legislation gives EPA the flexibility to make a decision based upon the merits of each individual case where appropriate,” the congressman said.

ISSUE IN WAVERLY

The Town of Waverly has also been trying in vain to rid the community of the former St. Regis Falls Central School building, which was condemned a number of years ago, and the town and village of Malone are working on an application for Brownfield money to take down a few of the buildings it has flagged for demolition.

Email Denise A. Raymo:

draymo@pressrepublican.com