Unmitigated asbestos found in ruins of Yampa Royal Hotel
Steamboat Springs — A state health department deadline to secure residual asbestos contained in the burned ruins of the Royal Hotel in the town of Yampa has come and gone, and both town and Routt County officials are uncertain of how the issue will ultimately be resolved.
The Board of County Commissioners met this week to discuss a May 7 letter from the Colorado Department of Health and the Environment to Royal Hotel owner Reno “Bill” Ager confirming that the remaining debris from the fire contains an estimated 200 cubic yards of asbestos-containing materials, “exceeding the trigger levels of a 55-gallon drum for a commercial structure.”
The letter from the CDPHE requires Ager to engage a certified general abatement contractor to remove the material. In the case that he was unable to immediately abate the asbestos in the fire debris, he was instructed to take measures to secure the site within 30 days.
County Commissioner Tim Corrigan, a resident of rural Yampa, told his colleagues that the town had given Ager until Aug. 1 to do something to improve the site and until Oct. 30 to clean it up. Yampa Mayor Tom Yackey confirmed that the town had sent Ager a certified letter to that effect, but he also hand-delivered it to avoid it feeling impersonal.
Routt County Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf told county commissioners Monday that Ager has indicated he is not in a position to abate the asbestos, a known carcinogen. Zopf, knowing that the hotel was more than 100 years old, originally brought the situation to the attention of the CDPHE.
“We’ve had conversations with him that suggest he’s not financially prepared to do anything,” Zopf told the commissioners, who also infrequently serve as the county Board of Health.
Yackey said the same.
“He told the town board he doesn’t have the money to do it, and the building wasn’t insured,” Yackey said.
Efforts to contact Ager through intermediaries by cell phone on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
The fire that destroyed the 112-year-old hotel in early January removed a significant community gathering place and a source of sales tax revenue for the little town in South Routt County. Within the last month, the town has done much to brighten up its appearance, including new flower barrels. But it’s hard to look beyond the fire debris on Moffat Avenue, the town’s main street.
One of the intermediate steps the CDPHE directed Ager to take was installing a fence around the perimeter of his property. Yackey said that job was completed June 12 through a collaborative effort among the county and the town, which leased panels of chain link fence, and Ager, who picked the fencing up from the Front Range and assembled a crew to install it.
However, the state agency also gave Ager 30 days to retain a certified contractor to either secure a layer of polyethylene over the debris or spray it with magnesium chloride (the chemical used to cut down dust on unpaved roads) to prevent disturbance of the debris (presumably by the wind).
That has not yet happened, and County Manager Tom Sullivan told commissioners that, “the state decided whatever risk there is, they aren’t going to spend any money on it.”
Zopf said applying a coating of mag chloride would cost thousands of dollars, and the permanent solution would likely cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Commissioner Doug Monger said that, without documentation of the health risk from the asbestos in this circumstance, he’s dubious about its existence.
“We still don’t have anything telling us it’s a hazard,” he said.
“I don’t believe that anyone can really assess the public health risk from the material that remains onsite,” Zopf told Steamboat Today in an e-mail. “There are just too many variables. The prudent thing is to comply with the CDPHE guidance.”
Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said she would be opposed to the county weighing in to tackle the problem — either through its building department, department of health or with financial assistance — until the problem is better understood.
“We ultimately need to know what is the worst case scenario,” Hermacinski said.
Assistant County Attorney Erick Knaus said he would advise against taking any steps outside those described by the state health department.
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