A reward has been issued for information about the Country Mall fire, which occurred late last year. Danger signs around the ashen building lets onlookers know of asbestos issues in the remains.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

A reward has been issued for information about the Country Mall fire, which occurred late last year. Danger signs around the ashen building lets onlookers know of asbestos issues in the remains.

Country Mall cleanup begins

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Story at a glance

• The Country Mall, 356 Ranney St., burned Nov. 25, 2007, and subsequent tests showed asbestos contamination.

• The Country Mall owners were waiting to hear if Continental Divide Insurance would pay for environmental cleanup before hiring contractors.

• The Colorado Department of Health told the owners they had to clean the site soon, regardless of the insurance company.

• One owner, Veldon Behrman, said the site is not badly contaminated, though he and his partner, Marvin Cortner, contracted a cleanup crew to start this week. The owners are paying out of pocket.

• The Craig Police Department deemed the fire a result of arson. The investigation has not progressed beyond previous reports.

— Veldon "Lop" Behrman remembers being confused the December 2007 day he saw "Danger: Asbestos" signs wrapped around the Country Mall, a property he owns with Marvin "Red" Cortner.

The Country Mall, at 356 Ranney St., burned Nov. 25, 2007. Craig firefighters termed the blaze "a total loss."

Craig Police Department officials deemed the fire was a result of arson, but no arrests have been made.

After the fire, Sunrise Environmental LLC conducted a hazardous materials investigation and found the property was contaminated with asbestos, which requires special cleanup procedures.

Those procedures started this weekend.

Behrman and Cortner contracted Kingston Environmental Services, of Denver, for asbestos removal.

The job could take about two to three weeks to complete, said Roy White, Kingston western regional manager.

"It really depends on the weather, though," White said. "If the wind gets over 20 miles per hour, we have to shut down. The job would take longer if we had a lot of problems with that."

Kingston crews sprayed down the site with water to keep wind from spreading the asbestos, which is a potential health concern.

Kingston will put a wind tent across the fencing now surrounding the Country Mall to help contain any asbestos.

Then, crews will transport contaminated material in lined dumpsters to the Milner Landfill. White said the Moffat County Landfill does not accept asbestos-contaminated debris.

After Kingston is done, Cowboy Excavating, an area company, will demolish the building and take everything away, including the foundation, said Andy Volk, Cowboy Excavating secretary.

Behrman said he is not happy with the way the Country Mall's cleanup has been handled so far.

He said he received the Sunrise Environmental report Thursday, about four months after the initial investigation, adding the proof of asbestos contamination was less than compelling.

According to the Sunrise study report, two out of 38 debris samples tested contained asbestos.

Although the linoleum flooring in the surgery room of the High Country Veterinary Clinic - a mall tenant - was shown to be 25 percent asbestos, Behrman said it was only dangerous because it was burned.

The state sets a limit of 1 percent asbestos in a material's composition before it is deemed hazardous.

Ceiling tiles in the building's southern end showed a 3 percent asbestos composition.

"There isn't enough asbestos in there to hurt anybody," Behrman said. "If the fire hadn't gotten into that floor tile, it's nonpliable, which means it could be bagged up and taken to any landfill."

State regulations require site-wide cleanup when asbestos is found after a fire, White said, because the fire and winds blowing through a destroyed site can spread the material.

As of Monday, Behrman said Continental Divide Insurance has not made a decision whether it would pay for fire damages at the Country Mall or any environmental cleanup.

He and Cortner were waiting to hear what compensation they would receive for the building before hiring contractors, Behrman said in a previous interview.

However, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment told Behrman and Cortner to clean the site regardless after recent complaints from residents, said Chris Dann, Air Pollution Control Division information officer.

"So far we're paying for it out of our own pocket," Behrman said, at a cost of about $200,000.

Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said the department's arson investigation has not progressed beyond previous reports. There remains a $10,000 reward from Continental Divide Insurance and a $2,000 reward from CrimeStoppers for any information leading to an arrest and a conviction.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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