Building was considered stable

Published 12:04 am Saturday, December 24, 2011

NATCHEZ — The Tuesday collapse of a long-disused building on Homochitto Street was a surprise to city inspectors, who did not consider it a top priority for demolition.

The structure had been placed on the city’s unsafe buildings list, but it had been inspected, and it was determined the building was not an imminent threat to the public once it was boarded up.

“They felt the building was sound enough that it wasn’t in a state where it was going to collapse at the time, but they did determine that it was unsafe and needed to be boarded up,” City Planner Bob Nix said. “(Building inspector Fred Galler) was surprised it collapsed.”

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Galler said the inspection of such buildings includes looking at how out of plumb or deteriorated the walls and foundations are.

Likewise, the condition of the roof is considered during inspection.

The building’s owners — Bennie Wright and Robert Johnson — had taken the appropriate steps to secure the building before the collapse, Nix said.

While Nix said it is only speculation, he thought it was possible that thieves undermined the structure after it was inspected.

“We don’t know if people had been removing parts of the building like they had been at Arlington, pilfering the old hardwood and old Natchez brick,” he said.

“It was only a matter of time if that had been happening.”

While the city has the authority to demolish buildings that have been declared “unsafe” or “dangerous” — and there are technical differences in the building code between the two — Nix said that fairly recent changes in state law have removed some red tape will allow the city to move forward with the demolition of blighted properties in a more expedient manner.

The property owners obtained a cleanup permit for the collapse site Wednesday.

Neither Johnson nor Wright could be contacted for comment this week.