BURLEY — The owner of two downtown buildings destroyed by arson in January — and now under asbestos cleanup by the Environmental Protection Agency — says his hands were tied by the costs of removing building debris.
The EPA arrived Friday to begin the cleanup at 1222 and 1226 Overland Ave. in Burley. One of the buildings was destroyed by the fire and the second by water from the fire suppression.
Property owner Brian Tibbets said he attempted to get estimates for the cleanup but only one company responded.
The EPA told Tibbets he had to begin the cleanup by the end of July or the EPA would do it and bill him for the costs. Tibbets had a budget of $35,000 for the cleanup and the company that began preparing a bid abandoned it when the costs soared past $150,000.
“Knowing my budget they would not finish the bid,” he said. “I told the EPA that I couldn’t afford the cleanup.”
Tibbets suggested deeding the property to the EPA to cover the costs, but officials declined the offer.
He paid $80,000 for the buildings.
“I’ve been told by the EPA that the costs will be in the range of $300,000 to $350,000 but that was not in writing,” Tibbets said.
He feels “frustrated watching the cleanup,” he said, because he thinks he could have done the same work himself for less money.
“I’ll be paying for it for the rest of my life,” Tibbets said.
Tibbets said he could have been assessed a civil penalty of $55,907 per day for not signing documents allowing the EPA access to the site. The documents included a clause stating he had not been threatened, which he refused to sign because he felt the civil penalty was a threat.
He sent an email to the agency allowing access, he said.
His “only crime,” Tibbets said, is owning property that someone destroyed by arson.
“I’m not mad at the EPA,” he said. “I have no beef against them.”
Tibbets said he’s complied with everything the EPA asked him to do except to hire a company for the demolition.
The EPA said in an earlier statement that Tibbets had complied with requests to keep water on the debris and put a fence around the property. Tibbets said before the buildings were torn down, the city had pressured him to remove debris from the sidewalk and street.
When a worker began cleaning up the street and sidewalk, the north wall of the building began teetering and the front facade hung over the sidewalk, posing a hazard. The worker knocked the wall over.
The wall facing Overland Avenue had already fallen over.
“We didn’t intend to demolish it but there was a risk of it collapsing on someone,” Tibbets said.
About eight loads of the materials were taken to a dump site south of Burley before the EPA halted the work for asbestos testing.
Tibbets original intention was to donate the property to the city of Burley to be used for downtown parking, which he’d still like to do if a lien is not placed on the property by the agency.
“Right now, we are focused 100 percent on finishing the cleanup as quickly and safely as possible,” EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre wrote in an email to the Times-News. “Once completed, EPA has a number of legal and cost recovery tools to consider, including property liens that we may employ.”
Tibbets said he will never buy another old building.
“During the cleanup work, we will spray water to keep the materials damp and we may also use a substance called a tackifier which will keep the asbestos fibers stuck in the debris to prevent them from becoming airborne during the cleanup process,” EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski said in a press release. “We’ll also place air monitors on the workers and near the work site to ensure asbestos contaminated dust isn’t posing a threat to the community.”
The cleanup is expected to take from two to four weeks to complete. The debris will be transported in double-lined containers to make sure nothing is released.
A local landfill has the ability to safely destroy the material, she said.
South Central Public Health District said in a press release that residents should stay clear of the site until the cleanup is complete.
The EPA does not think anyone was exposed to the asbestos unless they dug through the debris without proper equipment, the release said. Anyone concerned about exposure should see their doctor.
“Asbestos inhalation can cause serious health effects if enough is inhaled,” Craig Paul, SCPHD public health program manager, said. “Asbestos exposure should be taken seriously.”
Asbestos can’t be removed from the lungs once exposure has occurred. Once exposed to asbestos, a person should take good care of their lungs to slow or prevent disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
During the investigation at the fire scene, officials also discovered a pipe bomb across the street at a restaurant owned by Tibbets’s business partner, Brek Pilling.
No arrests have been made in the case and anyone with information on the crimes should contact the Cassia County Sheriff’s Office, 208-878-2251.