Royal Hotel owner might deed asbestos site to Routt County to land cleanup grant
February 14, 2017
Steamboat Springs — Reno "Bill" Ager, owner of the historic Royal Hotel in Yampa, which burned to the ground in January 2015, may have found a way to avoid litigation with Routt County over a long put-off asbestos cleanup at the charred site.
However, the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday directed County Attorney Erick Knaus to proceed with filing a lawsuit to acquire ownership of the site. That step is necessary in order for the county to land a state grant to fund the cleanup.
The county has been notified by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment that it is eligible for a Colorado Brownfields Grant through a private-public partnership devoted to encouraging the cleanup of unused or underused contaminated properties. CDHE confirmed to Ager by mail in June 2015 that the ruins of the hotel contained an estimated 200 cubic yards of asbestos-containing material — an amount that exceeds allowable levels of the known carcinogen.
Reno, who has previously told county officials he doesn't have sufficient resources to fund the cleanup, said Tuesday he had invested more than 20 years of his life in the 112-year-old hotel and asked the commissioners, "Do you know how many falling down buildings in Yampa have asbestos in them?
"You'll have the opportunity to tell that to the judge when we move forward," Commissioner Doug Monger replied. "It's not our intention to take your property. Through this legal process, you're going to have rights. We've been saying this for two years, that we want to get it cleaned up for the prosperity of Yampa."
At that point in the conversation, it occurred to Ager that he might come out ahead if he could cut a deal and deed the property to the county in exchange for being compensated for the water and sewer taps he bought for the hotel. The Royal was built early in the 20th century in anticipation of the railroad finally reaching South Routt.
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"I might just go ahead and do a quit claim deed for you to save a bunch of money and avoid taking time off of work," Ager said. "I understand the cleanup needs to take place for everybody, period. I don't know, sewer taps, water taps, that's not something to give away."
In the absence of Commissioner Tim Corrigan, who has worked to resolve the problem, commissioners Cari Hermacinski and Monger agreed to consider compensating Ager for his taps, pending the county attorney's ability to confirm that action would satisfy the state health department.
Knaus asked that the commissioners' directive include language to the effect, "the administrative process had been exhausted even though the board's direction was to work with Ager, to avoid pending litigation." They agreed to Knaus’ request.
The county has already purchased a fence that Ager installed around the burned hotel site and has applied magnesium chloride to the debris to help contain the asbestos.
Remnant of the old west
When flames consumed the old Royal Hotel in Yampa on Jan. 3, 2015 (no one was hurt), the blaze took with it one of the most prominent landmarks and watering holes along the unpaved main street of a little town that harkens back to the old west.
Cowboys and cowgirls still gather there at least once a year on the Fourth of July to honor the birth of a nation, race horses and play a little broom polo, local historian Paul Bonnifield said. The Royal, with its covered boardwalk and balcony overlooking Moffat Avenue, provided a front-row seat where people took in the action from camping chairs set up in the beds of pickup trucks.
The Royal was like something out of an old Zane Grey Western novel. And in fact, Bonnifield said, Grey stayed at the Royal while writing his book, "The Mysterious Rider."
But contrary to rumors, Teddy Roosevelt never "slept there." Yet, locals will tell you that a ghost named Rufus used to haunt the hotel.
Local historian Noreen Moore said the Royal Hotel was both an historic building and a vibrant business where people congregated in south Routt County.