Rubble must wait for hazardous material tests

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 14, 2012

ERIC SHELTON/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — A car passes by the rubble left behind from the collapsed building on the corner of Homochitto Street and Duncan Avenue Friday afternoon. The abandoned building collapsed Tuesday, Dec. 20.

NATCHEZ — Before the cleanup of the collapsed building on Homochitto Street can begin, the site has to be tested for hazardous materials such as lead and asbestos, which are often found in older structures.

Natchez Assistant City Planner Danit Simon said that once those tests are completed, the cleanup crew will know how to clear the site according to standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Mississippi and the city.

Natchez Alderman Bob Pollard, in whose ward the building is located, said those tests should be completed soon. The property owners have gotten the permits they need for the cleanup, he said.

And for Pollard, the cleanup can’t start quickly enough.

The Ward 3 alderman said he has heard numerous complaints about the property since the collapse, which threw bricks, wood and other waste out onto a major artery into downtown, temporarily closing Homochitto Street. The roadway was cleared that afternoon, but now the site is home to a large pile of rubble and emergency tape.

“It is an eyesore, and the citizens of Natchez have to look at it every day, and it needs to be demolished,” he said. “We have got Mardi Gras and Pilgrimage coming up.”

The building, located at the intersection of Homochitto and Dunlieth streets, collapsed unexpectedly on the afternoon of Dec. 20. It had been unused for some time, and building inspection officials had placed it on the list of unsafe buildings in the city limits.

Even though it had been considered “unsafe,” building inspectors said at the time of the collapse that it had been considered stable. A vehicle struck it several years ago, leaving a large hole in the wall, but in more recent times the property’s owners had boarded up the building.

At the time of the collapse, City Planner Bob Nix speculated that thieves stealing wood and brick material had undermined the building’s structural integrity.

Neither of the property owners — Benny Wright and Robert Johnson Sr. — could be reached for comment.