Harpers Ferry Council addresses asbestos issue at special meeting
HARPERS FERRY – The Harpers Ferry Town Council held a special meeting on Saturday, to address some issues raised by a Request For Information memo sent to SWaN, representatives who are the owners of the Hilltop Hotel property in the town.
The RFI, designated as RFI49, was issued by Mayor Wayne Bishop on March 7, following a complaint the mayor received from town residents regarding potential hazardous material at the hotel site.
“The Town of Harpers Ferry has received a complaint that has been copied to the WV Department of Environmental Protection Agency regarding asbestos abatement operations at your hotel property located at 400 East Ridge Street. Additional concerns have been sent to the EPA, along with a letter of concern from an elderly resident walking their dog in the vicinity of 400 East Ridge Street, the Hill Top Hotel site on Wednesday, March 6, 2019,” said the complaint.
In addressing the matter, the mayor said he had met with Carol Wallingford, from the EPA’s district office in Fairmont, who was in the Eastern Panhandle following the complaint. He indicated Wallingford was referred to him by Herb Hillary at the West Virginia Department of the EPA, because Hilary had been contacted by a town resident.
According to Bishop, Wallingford had expressed concern over runoff at the hotel site, as well as concern over the continued deterioration of the former hotel. In a follow-up email from Wallingford, the mayor said she saw a potential hazard with materials in the inner plaster walls that were now open to the elements. With that information available, Bishop called the special meeting to have the town council determine a course of action. Bishop also reminded council members that the town has a nuisance ordinance and state officials had indicated to him that any action taken by the town should come as a result of those ordinances.
In discussion over whether Wallingford’s email could constitute a “report” on the hotel site’s condition, council member Midge Flinn-Yost was concerned a potential threat may exist and said it was her role as a council member to look into that.
“I have received new information,” Yost said. “The state has identified a potential threat from the internal plaster walls. I would ask that we send a response to SWaN and ask how they want to deal with this.”
Town Recorder Kevin Carden called for the meeting to be postponed until SWaN representative Laurel Ziemianski could be present. She was out of town and not available to attend Saturday’s meeting.
Carden went on to read a memo from former mayor Greg Vaughn, indicating that because SWaN, at the time of the memo, had agreed to provide updates on the project area and move forward with renovations of some of the armory houses near the hotel, that the town would not move on the nuisance ordinance.
“They are doing this,” Carden said.
Charlotte Thompson, council member, said she would like to have interaction that is a partnership rather than what appears to be adversarial.
“Maybe we should put this off until we can actually meet with SWaN and have an actual conversation,” she said. “The threat has been there for 10 years, why not wait another week.”
“This is a bit of a circus. We shouldn’t have had to meet. We should have simply put this information in a response,” Carden said, mentioning the agreement was reached to send copies of all information including the email from Wallingford, to Ziemanski and await her reply.
Before the meeting concluded, several members of the public made comments about the issue.
“This is serious. I see this as a game you’re all are playing. I urge you to be honest [about a potential health threat]. You are representing all of us,” ,” Betsy Bainbridge told the council, mentioning she believed there is no health hazard at the site.
Resident Jay Premack, who is running for council in the upcoming election, went so far as to say that the back-and-forth on RFI49 was an embarrassment.
“I can see this hotel is not a priority of this council,” Premack said. “But it is a priority to the town. Why are we overcomplicating this?”
Martha Ehlman, business owner in Harpers Ferry, concluded the meeting by saying, “The town council needs to see with fresh eyes that this is a good project.”