By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
An action plan and environmental assessment addressing what remains of the Sands Dorsey Building gutted by fires in 2007 and 2012 has been sent to an environmental enforcement officer in the New Mexico Environment Department.
The plan, which was sent to Paul Martinez, an enforcement officer in NMED’s solid waste division, on July 23, concludes the building should be demolished and recommends a cleanup plan.
Doug Powers, Tucumcari city manager, said that submitting the plan is likely to accelerate action on cleaning up the rubble-strewn site in Tucumcari’s downtown. The first step, he said, is that the NMED must approve the plan. Powers presented the assessment and action plan to the Tucumcari City Commission Thursday.
Powers said he is hopeful that NMED will help the city find funding for the demolition project but indicated the city is actively exploring such funding from sources that include the federal Environmental Protection Agency and other granting authorities.
The study’s author, WHPacific, a Portland, Ore., an engineering firm, cites safety concerns as reasons to tear down the remains of the building. Other concerns cited:
• More arson fires are possible. The 2007 fire was accidental; the 2012 fire was a suspected arson blaze.
• The building’s shell is unsound. Loose bricks and leaning walls hang over the surrounding sidewalk. The building’s brick façade appears to be separating from the building’s structural supports. Collapse of walls and falling bricks could harm pedestrians.
• Lead-painted bricks have reportedly been stolen from the site, exposing thieves to possible lead poisoning.
• Wind and weather have raised concerns about the stability of the building’s walls.
• Vibrations from frequent truck traffic on nearby streets could contribute to weakening of the walls.
• Former Tucumcari Fire Chief Mike Cherry said the building is in “extreme hazardous condition,” representing a “public life and safety problem as well as a damage problem to the occupied building to the west.” Cherry included these conclusions in a letter to City Manager Doug Powers in 2012.
The WHPacific study shows the debris and frame sections of the Sands Dorsey building that remain on the site include materials that contain significant amounts of asbestos and lead, and trace amounts of other toxic substances. Lead and asbestos, however, make up less than 1 percent of the building’s volume, the study said.
Soil surrounding the burned-out structure contains some lead and asbestos, but not enough to constitute an immediate hazard. The naturally occurring high clay content of the soil around the structure has served to confine the hazardous materials to the area immediately surrounding the building, the study says.
To raze the building and clean up the site, WHPacific engineers recommend using “wet methods.” Powers explained this means that before demolition and clean up activity begins, the area is watered down and kept wet to minimize flying dust, which may contain asbestos.
The engineering study specifies work should be performed by persons trained in handling asbestos and wearing protective equipment. Material containing asbestos will be separated out and placed in an appropriate waste container for disposal in a landfill licensed to receive it.
Powers said there is a possibility that a site in Clovis may be able to receive this material, but it may have to travel to a licensed site in Moriarty.
Included with the plan is a reference to a letter from the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Office to Powers that approves the demolition because of the Sands Dorsey’s “advanced state of disrepair.” The building was built in the early 1900s.
Also included is a copy of an e-mail message from attorney Randy Knudson. Knudson concludes that because the building’s owner Robert Hengstenberg has not appealed the city’s resolution to tear down the building, Hengstenberg has no grounds on which to challenge the city’s decision to demolish it.
Hengstenberg’s attorney, George Adelo of Santa Fe, said he would prefer that ownership transfer first, citing liability concerns.
Powers said the city has not taken ownership of the property because doing so would require the city to raze the building before it had the financial resources to do so.