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Belleville asbestos lawsuit grows more complicated

In June, we wrote about a confusing series of legal battles between the city of Belleville, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Illinois Attorney General, an excavation company, and various other groups and individuals regarding a building that was destroyed by fire over a year ago. Now, the owner of the destroyed property, who previously sued the city for tearing the building down without his permission, is the subject of a countersuit filed by city in regards to the asbestos that has been found at the building's site.

The legal drama began in May 2010, when a fire destroyed two old buildings in Belleville. Within hours of the fire, Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert hired an excavation company to tear the buildings down. The owner of one of the buildings alleged that Eckert ordered the building demolished without the proper 15-day notice and response period for the building owner, and without notifying the IEPA. He filed a lawsuit against the city, requesting $1 million in compensation plus lost rent wages.

However, that was only the beginning of the city's legal troubles. When the building site was inspected by the IEPA, the agency discovered asbestos in the rubble, and cited the city, the excavators, and the building owners for their failure to notify the IEPA of the demolition before it occurred. So the city turned around and sued the building owner to force him to remove the asbestos.

In response to the countersuit, the building owner suggested that the cost of the asbestos removal be split four ways: between the city, the excavator, and the two building owners. The city, which is claiming that the asbestos was released during the fire and not in the subsequent building demolition, has refused to accept that offer unless the owner drop his lawsuit alleging that the building was demolished improperly, which he has refused to do.

This is a legal fight that will likely continue for weeks to come.

Source: Belleville News-Democrat, "Man who sued Belleville over building demolition faces countersuit over asbestos," Laura Girresch, August 17, 2011

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