Fire debris cleanup to restart soon

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The saga of the downtown debris may be coming to a close aftercity officials, business owners and a representative of theDepartment of Environmental Quality met Monday at the site of therubble.

“We have had a very profitable meeting here,” said Charles”Chid” Lofton, who owns part of the property destroyed by the May24 downtown fire. “The DEQ has given us permission to resumecleanup.”

Posey Place owner Jan Bullock said it was her hope that thedebris could be moved by Ole Brook Festival time.

“We’d really like to see it cleaned up before the festival,” shesaid. “We’d like to see it cleaned up period.”

The area has sat in various stages of disrepair since flamestore through the corner of Whitworth Avenue and Monticello Street.The city finally tore down the structure during mid-summer, and thecity set a final deadline for property owners to complete thecleanup by Dec. 1.

Efforts to clear the rubble began when Lofton and Bullockcontracted with Wesson construction authority Bobby Britt to removethe debris. But upon learning of asbestos in the debris, the DEQstepped in to let project leaders know there was a problem withtaking the remains to the city landfill.

“Different landfills take different kinds of waste,” said TomFortenberry of the DEQ. “In this situation, there is asbestos andthat requires us to send it to a Class B landfill.”

The closest Class B landfill is near Natchez. Shortly afterlearning the rubble must be sent there, cleanup organizers foundthe cost to be prohibitive and caused a stalemate in theprogress.

Mayor Bob Massengill said when he realized the Ole BrookFestival was looming, he called DEQ to see if there were any way toget the debris haul under way any sooner.

“I contacted DEQ last week and told them my understanding wasthat it was going to be cost prohibitive to get things hauled by aprofessional company all the way to the Sibley landfill locatednear Natchez,” he said. “I asked them what do we have to do to getthat where that doesn’t have to be done? The guy I talked to wasvery helpful, said they’d get someone down here to see.”

So Hattiesburg asbestos expert Joey Venus will oversee thecleanup, and he and Britt will work together to divide the debristhat can go to the city landfill and the debris that must be takento the Class B landfill near Natchez.

“The DEQ inspector that is coming on sight will work with me inselecting what needs to go where,” said Britt. “We’ll be workingunder his direction.”

Massengill said the division of the different groups of debriswill not only cut costs, but organize efforts to get everything tothe landfill it needs to go to.

“Venus will come over from Hattiesburg and will determine whathas asbestos and what does not. The city can haul it if itdoesn’t,” he said. “We tried to encourage DEQ and those responsiblefor moving the debris to get that ball rolling again as quickly aspossible.”

Massengill is not the only one who is anxious to get that lotclear.

“My understanding is that Mr. Britt wants to get on it asquickly as he possibly can. He’s a professional and wants to get itdone quickly, but the asbestos issue has delayed things,” hesaid.

Britt said once he can get the equipment back in commission, thefinal stages of the cleanup shouldn’t take more than three or fourdays.

“It may take a few days to get equip lined up and get back onsite,” he said. “With Labor Day coming this weekend, I’d love towait until tomorrow week to get started up again, but we need to doit sooner. We’ll be getting in there as soon as possible.”

Massengill said the meeting was profitable for all the groupsrepresented.

“Mr. Fortenberry was just as helpful as he can be. It seems likewe all ended up feeling a whole lot better about where we go fromhere,” he said. “I was really pleased that it went like it did, andI feel like everyone walked away pleased with the outcome of themeeting.”

Lofton said will be glad once the project has reached itscompletion.

“The sooner it is cleaned up, the sooner we can market it,” hesaid. “My half is for sale, and Jan has indicated she would alsosell hers. I have several prospects in mind.

“We’re just delighted the process can restart and we can finallyget all this cleaned up.”