Demolition prompts DEQ review

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is investigating the demolition of a portion of Sweet Home Funeral Chapel, which began last week.

Most of the funeral home was demolished on Oct. 29 to make way for a new building. The funeral chapel is located just east of Sweet Home High School at the intersection of 15th and Long streets.

“They performed a demolition without doing an asbestos survey first,” said Dottie Boyd, a natural resources specialist and inspector in the Air Quality Asbestos Program with the DEQ. After the building was mostly demolished, the DEQ received reports of the demolition and got involved at about 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 29.

Boyd contacted the owners, Mac and Liz Olsen, who immediately stopped demolition, she said.

She described them as “very cooperative when I first contacted them.”

The next morning, Oct. 30, she went to the site, and an accredited asbestos inspector and an asbestos abatement contractor were already there, Boyd said.

They found asbestos in flooring and roofing material, Boyd said. That debris is being cleaned up by an abatement contractor, Restoration Professionals and Consultants of Albany.

By law, other than residential projects, any renovation or demolition requires an asbestos survey by an accredited asbestos inspector, Boyd said. People doing residential projects must answer the same questions, and the DEQ recommends that they use an accredited inspector as well because they are still liable for any asbestos contamination.

The Olsens obtained permits for demolition and building on Jan. 12, Mac Olsen said. “It took until just recently to get a funding source that was reliable.”

Papers were signed the day demolition started, Olsen said. He checked with the city to make sure everything was clear and ready to go as far as paperwork before starting.

Among the paperwork was a 120-page environmental report prepared by environmental consultants Point Source Solutions of Portland, Olsen said. He submitted that to Coffin Butte Landfill prior to sending the first truck. Landfill staff contacted the DEQ.

“The environmental report was pretty substantial,” Olsen said, and he and his wife missed a disclaimer in the report that said assessing asbestos was not the purpose of the report, that the report was meant to assess how the project would affect the environment.

They had believed the environmental report fulfilled the legal requirement, Olsen said. “We proceeded thinking we had done everything.”

Olsen originally had $6,000 to $8,000 budgeted for demolition, he said. That total is now upward of $30,000 and growing; and he still doesn’t know whether the DEQ will levy a fine.

“In all honesty,” he said. “We weren’t trying to hide anything. We were fully cooperative.”

Working with the DEQ, he said, it is not necessary to fully contain the site. Rather, they are spraying it with water to keep dust down, and they have erected a fence around the debris.

The incident remains under investigation, Boyd said, so she was unable to comment on the likelihood of enforcement action, such as fines.

The demolition removed the funeral chapel’s office area, carport and the parts formerly used as housing for the funeral director, Olsen said. He and his staff are working out of the chapel and Sweet Home Evangelical Church to meet with families and make arrangements.

The crematory and work are in the back also remains intact and in use, Olsen said.

The project is about two weeks behind now, but he is still hoping to finish by his goal of January to February, Olsen said. He anticipates starting construction by Friday.

“We’re trying to be fully cooperative and hope this will all be over soon,” Olsen said.