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Demolition decision places fire chief on the hot seat

Created: 08/15/2013 11:52 PM WNYT.com
By: Dan Levy

TROY - They were trying to clear the air in downtown Troy Thursday night. More specifically, the city council's Public Safety Committee wanted to clear up the confusion and the misunderstandings that popped up after three buildings came down ten days ago in a cloud of controversy.

Now that the dust has cleared on King Street, what seems to be left is a political mess in Troy. Fire Chief Tom Garrett ordered the emergency demolition of three buildings on August 5th, citing imminent danger to public safety.

"We did the right thing. I'd do it again," Garrett asserted, in front of the public safety committee members. "Would I get air monitoring? Yeah, I didn't know about that."

What Garrett says he didn't know then, but knows now, is that the state labor department should have been monitoring the air quality during the demolition process, especially since people were eating dinner at the outdoor cafe of Bombers Restaurant directly next door.

Since the building was built in 1852, forty years before asbestos was first used commercially, Garrett says he didn't think asbestos was much of a threat.

"Was there asbestos? Sure, there's asbestos in the (roof) shingles," Garrett conceded. "Maybe there's asbestos if there's some linoleum, but it's minimal asbestos."

Councilman Mark McGrath, after reading newspaper articles, says he, for one, has serious doubts about the chief's assertion.

"It doesn't have SOME asbestos," McGrath argues, "It's full of it."

If there were large quantities of asbestos, demolition contractor Michael Cristo didn't seem terribly concerned.

"It would be very rare for somebody to get sick from a singular project," Cristo said.

The man who paid to take down the buildings was the property owner, local attorney Don Boyajian.

"I did not know what was going to be involved in taking the buildings down," Boyajian told the overflow crowd, "I did express my willingness to pay because they were my buildings and it was my responsibility not to burden the taxpayer."

But several council members expressed concern that Chief Garrett's decision was made hastily.

"We just need a process by which we take more than 24 hours to decide to take down a 160-year old building," said Councilman Robert Doherty.

"The one thing that concerns me," said Mayor Lou Rosamilia, "is the confusion and the misunderstanding that took place on that Monday. In terms of the fire chief, he made a decision based on his experience and I honor that."

Rosamilia says he expects to hear from the state labor department concerning air quality test results as early as Monday.

Boyajian says he doesn't have any prospects for the property yet but he believes it's in a great spot and eventually someone will want to build there.

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