The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that a clean-up project costing taxpayers three-quarters of a million dollars was finally complete.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday that a clean-up project costing taxpayers three-quarters of a million dollars was finally complete.

Buildings at the former Rock-Tenn paper mill in Otsego were demolished after deadly asbestos contaminants were found inside. The demolition project started April 1 and finished July 2, 2019.

Paul Ruesch, the on-site coordinator with District 5 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said it’s common for the EPA to oversee such projects, although the state normally directs the agency to participate. He said in the case of Rock-Tenn, Allegan County and the city of Otsego wrote to the agency directly.

Ruesch visited the building before demolition started. High levels of asbestos were found loose in the facility’s powerhouse as a result of illegal metal scraping. According to the EPA, asbestos insulation was used extensively inside the building. The decision to demolish the structure was prompted by concerns that the building could collapse, and then uncontrollable release asbestos into surrounding area.

“It was basically just powder and dust all over the floor, and in some places, 12 to 15 inches deep of just insulation and foam board that came off of this metal that was scraped out of that building, all containing asbestos,” Ruesch said.

The facility’s previous owner abandoned the buildings after failing to pay property taxes, Ruesch said, leaving the county with the mess. He said an enforcement team with the EPA would use due diligence to find the previous owner in an effort to recoup the money spent on the demolition and cleanup.

Besides asbestos, Ruesch said, the building was deteriorating, causing additional hazards. He described it as a “house of horrors.”

“The floor had a bunch of holes in it. I viewed the floor and it was imminently going to collapse,” he said. There also were “busted pipes, broken staircases and catwalks hanging from the ceiling. On windy days, pieces of the roof would actually blow off of the roof.”

The building foundation and basement were not removed during the project. The facility is now fenced off with warning signs to keep the public away.

During the demolition, the EPA placed air monitors around the building to test for asbestos and ensure that none was released offsite. Trucks lined with double layers of plastic transported debris from the project site to an EPA-approved landfill.

In total, Ruesch said, more than 3,000 tons of debris was removed from the site, along with nearly 10 tons of contaminated soil.

Allegan County officials said they are hoping to find a buyer to develop the land, which sits next to the Kalamazoo River.

Otsego City Manager Aaron Mitchell said it would be ideal if the builder constructed residential units.

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