Rediscovery of asbestos stalls Drewry's demolition

Published: Sep. 26, 2019 at 4:09 PM EDT
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The on-again, off-again demolition of the old Drewry’s Brewery building in South Bend is off again.

The property owner started the job in February of 2017 but never finished.

This was supposed to be the year the South Bend Common Council stepped in to finish the job, only to find the cost of the project turned out to be $1 million more than expected.

“I think the $1.2 million being the lowest bid that we got, that’s just outrageous,” 2nd District Common Council Member Regina Williams-Preston said.

Actually, the low bid came in closer to $1.4 million. The council had dedicated $400,000 to the cause.

On Sept. 10, the South Bend Board of Public Works rejected both bids it received for the Drewry’s demolition as being too costly.

The problem appears to be the recent rediscovery of asbestos on the site.

“Based on my conversations with [Indiana Department of Environmental Management], the owner had cleaned up the site. We got a bill of health that says there are no violations, then all the sudden there's this contamination on the site,” Williams-Preston said.

A letter from IDEM dated Aug. 27 said there was wood, asphalt shingles and asbestos found on the site. The letter states that the materials came from “outside the perimeter of the property” and that the property owner should “ensure that all dumping stop immediately.”

It’s the latest setback to possible plans to develop an indoor farming operation on the site.

“I don't know what happened. I don't know why the contamination is there, but we need to get the site cleaned up. It's an opportunity, we want to hear, to bring jobs, to bring fresh produce right here in our neighborhood, eliminating food deserts that we have there. So there's a lot of opportunity,” Williams-Preston said.

At a public meeting Thursday night, Williams-Preston and residents searched for solutions to the problems that plague the Drewry's site.

Regina Williams-Preston on South Bend's Common Council, residents and even the property's owner, Steve Durkee, said they want to work together.

"There's more than having a thriving community than simply fussing and fighting and going the legal route. Maybe there are some things we can do together, that's less about pointing fingers and more about joining hands," Williams-Preston said.

One solution discussed was to lift the demo order.

"The demo order has been in place for a lot of years and because of that the owner hasn't been able to get financing through a typical investor or mortgage company," Williams-Preston said.

Durkee said he has spent over $ 1 million of his own money to clean up the site, just to find out something else happens and he says it is becoming a game.

At the meeting, residents said illegal dumping has been a problem for years.

Next up, residents and the council woman said they want to hear more from the city and code enforcement.

In a statement from the city, officials said, "We are committed to making sure that the Drewry's site is made safe and improved for the surrounding neighborhood and await next steps from IDEM."

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