The Cost of St. Paul Demolition Project Grows with Asbestos Discovery

Posted on March 8, 2016

St. Paul, Minnesota, that touts itself as “The Most Liveable City in America,” is in the midst of a growth spurt as the city undergoes “a purposeful, long-term effort to create vibrant places and spaces.” Unfortunately, during one of the demolition projects slated to open up land for development along the river, asbestos was uncovered leading to rising costs and an extended timeline.

According to a March 1 article in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, town officials voted to continue demolition efforts, that were initially approved in Nov. 2014, even though the asbestos discovery could result in a nearly $6 million overrun of the cost of the project.

The site, as noted in a Nov. 24, 2014, article in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press,”provides commanding views of the Mississippi River, and current interest in luxury housing downtown is intense.” It is this interest that the city officials anticipate will draw buyers that will more than cover the cost of razing the structures.

The former West Publishing Complex, comprised of six buildings, and an adult detention center were up for sale for years, however, developers balked at buying the old structures, the oldest being built in 1895. Buildings built prior to the 1980’s are often laden with asbestos-containing materials that must be carefully managed and removed, leading to high costs. The city decided to move ahead with the demolition to increase the appeal of the property that has been vacant for years. It has not been on the city’s tax rolls since 19992.

“When we made this decision, we knew there were risks,” Commissioner Toni Carter said, according to the Pioneer Press. “We determined that … if no one in the development community would take those risks, we needed to take them so we could gain on the riverfront … and re-create (our vision) there… That is an economic boon for all of us.”

Ensuring that asbestos is managed properly is critical to the health and safety of the workers and the public. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency‘s (MPCA) asbestos fact sheet, asbestos is known to cause cancer in humans. Lung cancer and mesothelioma (cancer of a membrane surrounding the lungs and other organs) can be caused by inhalation of asbestos. Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, and, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there is no safe level of exposure.

The MPCA has processes and guidelines in place to prevent emissions of asbestos-containing materials during both renovation and demolition projects. The MPCA enforces the federal National Emissions Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants  regulations that cover activities which may cause a release of asbestos to the environment.

In addition, the Minnesota Department of Health enforces regulations related to existing buildings and provides licensing and certification of asbestos abatement companies and technicians.

The Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports the demolition is just over 30 percent complete. The county anticipates redevelopment efforts can begin by August 2017.