by Jeremy Morrison
Continued demolition work on Pensacola’s John Sunday house has been temporarily halted. Maverick Demolition ceased work after receiving a letter from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Agency Monday afternoon regarding possible asbestos violations.
The letter was triggered by a complaint-driven inspection that revealed the possible issues. The complaint was made by community activist Teresa Hill, who alerted the FDEP that the demolition may not jive with regulations regarding asbestos.
Hill also made a point of alerting anyone else who would listen, parading around the demolition site with a pink hardhat and ‘Danger’ sign.
“I was down there blocking Romana Street,” Hill said Tuesday.
The activist contacted FDEP after learning that the project likely wasn’t square due to the fact that the demolition of multiple structures triggers federal asbestos removal rules — which Maverick Demolition was apparently not following — whereas demolition of a single dwelling does not trigger such regulations.
“Because it was two houses,” Hill said, referring to the smaller structure near the main house, technically listed with the Escambia County Property Appraiser at a separate address, that has also been torn down.
Brandy Smith, with the FDEP Northwest District, confirmed that a site visit had alerted inspectors to potential asbestos issues. She noted that the contractor was pursuing a remedy.
“Our compliance staff were in communication with Maverick Demolition earlier today,” she wrote in an email, “and have been advised that a licensed asbestos consultant has been hired to conduct a survey of the site and advise as to proper handling of any asbestos containing material at the site.”
In the July 18 warning letter, the FDEP cited a number of potential violations. They included the lack of any advance notice of demolition, the lack of any inspection for asbestos containing material, and the fact that debris was currently sitting at the site, “dry and exposed to the outside elements without adequate emission control.”
The letter also noted that the Escambia property appraiser listed both structures — 302 West Romana and the smaller 25 South Reus — as having roofs that contained asbestos. And informed Marcus McCoy, president of Maverick, that the warning was “part of an agency investigation, preliminary to agency action …”
Smith said the department plans to continue monitoring the demolition and “ensure that appropriate action is taken going forward.” She also said the agency would “address violations as needed.”
A message left Tuesday with Maverick Demolition has not yet been returned.
Though the Sunday House is gone, and the asbestos issue presents only a snag in Maverick’s demolition activities, Hill said she was happy to have reported it. Not only did it put a halt to improper disposal of asbestos materials, it also served as a sort of stick-in-the-eye to those looking to demolish historic structures.
“I think we shook’em up a little bit,” she said. “It’s not over.”
Hill described the demolition of the Sunday house as the initial, brutal volley of an ongoing debate concerning clearing the city’s historically significant structures to make way for newer projects.
“What they did was a battle cry,” Hill said, “and now we’re gonna be heard. Not in a violent way, but in a cute-pink-hardhat-kinda way.”
Last week the Pensacola City Council took up an effort to explore ways to safeguard historic structures, or culturally significant structures from being demolished. Hill was instrumental in delivering a petition to city officials asking for as much.
Councilman Brian Spencer, who brought the issue before council, referred to the Sunday house — cleared to make way for townhomes — as the “springboard” for the effort.
John Sunday was a prominent local African-American businessman and politician who fought under Ulysses Grant in the Civil War. He built the house at 302 Romana, as well as other structures in Pensacola.
The house was demolished following a lengthy community debate and June legal ruling.
Read the FDEP letter here.Warning Letter 302 West Romano Street and 25 Reus Street