The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Archive for May 29th, 2009|Daily archive page

City readies to take down 71 more flood-damaged homes, but not before councilman Wieneke questions costly caution over asbestos

In City Hall, Floods on May 29, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Seventy down, the next 71 or so at the ready, 1,150 or so to go.

The City Council this week gave the go-ahead to demolish 71 more flood-damaged properties.

The demolition of a first group of 70 properties, most of which were homes, was completed at the end of April.

This next group of properties is part of a group of homes tagged with red placards in the city’s worst-to-best system of purple, red, yellow and green placards. The purple-placarded homes came down first.

The decision this week to go ahead with 71 or so more homes did not come with some disagreement.

Council member Chuck Wieneke took great exception to the city’s plan to – as it did with the purple-placarded homes – treat the next 71 homes as too unsafe to enter. With that status, the city plan is that the properties can’t be checked for asbestos and the asbestos, if found, can’t be removed before demolition.

As a result, the entire property is considered to be asbestos-containing material, which requires special handling and increased costs during demolition.

Wieneke said he had “real heartburn” with the idea that the city would be paying what he said would be five times the regular demolition cost because of the decision about asbestos. He estimated the cost to demolish each house as it it had asbestos at $35,000 to $37,000.

He noted that many of the red-placarded houses have been entered by the homeowners with the assistance of city staff since the flood, and he didn’t see why city staff couldn’t do the same now to identify and mitigate any asbestos.

Wieneke said he’d be willing to walk into the homes.

City Manager Jim Prosser and Tim Manz, the city’s interim manager of code enforcement, countered, telling Wieneke that the city’s latest round of inspections found these 71 properties to be the worst of what is left standing and too unsafe to enter.

Manz said the structural instability of the 71 properties was similar to the purple-placarded homes that have now been demolished.

He noted that the city has another 140 homes that it has received permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take down, and he said that group of homes likely will allow for asbestos assessment and removal before demolition.

Council member Justin Shields said it was best to err on the side of safety. Manz assured council member Tom Podzimek that the owners were being notified before the demolitions.

Bids for the work must be submitted to the city by 11 a.m. June 11.

The contract calls for an estimated 71 structures to be down by Sept. 25.

The city continues to await additional federal Community Development Block Grant funds, which it plans to use to pay for buyouts and demolitions of most of the 1,300 flood-damaged homes and other structures it expects to buy out.

FEMA has agreed to pay for demolitions of a few hundred of the worst-damaged properties.

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A neighborhood leader with a thought on the Ice Arena faces the fact that some things are done deals

In City Hall on May 29, 2009 at 7:41 am

Frank, some things at City Hall probably are kind of done deals.

Frank King, president of Northwest Neighbors, has opinions and insights, which he often shares with the City Council at their Wednesday evening meetings.

Thursday afternoon, King couldn’t have been more disappointed.

The evening before, King told the council, during its public comment session, that he had some thoughts about the proposed deal to amend the city’s Ice Arena lease with the RoughRiders junior league hockey team.

The issue of the Ice Arena lease was on the council’s consent agenda, which is the place for items the council considers routine and not in need of discussion.

Members of the council, though, assured King that the agenda item – which changed the ownership name on the RoughRiders lease with the city to reflect a change in the team’s owners – had nothing to do with proposed amendments to the lease terms. King was told that the lease amendment would be addressed by the council at an upcoming meeting, which would be a better time for King to weigh in on matters.

By Thursday, King says he had come to see it was, in reality, all a done deal.

On Thursday morning, the new owners – three couples including team coach Mark Carlson and his wife – held a news conference at the city’s Ice Arena to officially announce the purchase of the team from a Chicago group.

The Thursday news conference was announced via City Hall press release to introduce.

By Thursday evening, TV news was awash with talk of new Jumbotrons and a new era in RoughRiders hockey. The Gazette’s sports section had been talking about it for a few days.

It all started late last week when the city’s Five Seasons Facilities Commission agreed to lease modifications with the team’s new owners, though the commission’s decision must be approved by the council.

The proposed lease changes reduce the team’s rent for the Ice Arena and give the team a 10-percent cut in concession revenue in exchange for the team’s immediate investment in arena improvements. Those include a new scoreboard and media screens.

What with the City Hall news release and the Thursday morning news conference, King says he finds it hard to imagine that the council now will raise any questions about the proposed lease amendments.

So he wishes he would have had his say Wednesday evening.

His wish, too, is that the council wouldn’t have given him the impression that its action Wednesday night was of little consequence and that he should save his thoughts and any thunder for the next time.

King said that, yes, he wouldn’t have minded seeing the new hockey team owners at the Wednesday evening council meeting. They could have introduced themselves to the council before it agreed to put the new owners’ names on the city lease that runs through 2020. King says the new owners also could have used the public meeting to explain to council members and the public what their plans were and why they needed to pay less rent at the arena.

King doesn’t think the deal is good enough for the city.

At the end of the day, the council does depend on the Five Seasons Facilities Commission to do much of the work related to the city’s facilities. The commission, which holds public meetings that few if any citizens attend, has done that with the Ice Arena lease.

Patrick DePalma, the commission’s chairman, said the new owners and the proposed changes in the lease help assure the city keeps a hockey team and keeps the principal tenant of the city’s ice arena. DePalma said lower rent and sharing some concession revenue is a good trade off to get the team to invest now in some arena improvements.