Jul 25, 2022 - News

Asbestos companies under suspicion in Detroit demo program

A home is shown hidden among trees, with a caution fence around its yard. Lots of dirt in the foreground.
A house in the city's demolition pipeline. Photo: Joe Guillen/Axios

Detroit's demolition program is still dealing with fallout from an explosive investigation that ended with three companies banished from the program.

Catch up quick: The Inspector General's investigation uncovered how a prominent asbestos removal company in the demolition program skirted environmental rules by setting up shell companies with concealed ownership.

  • The program has a spotty record of following environmental regulations put in place to ensure demolition sites don't endanger residents' health.

Why it matters: More asbestos companies in the program are now under scrutiny for possible ties to the business banished by the inspector general.

  • The city now expects a brief slow-down in demolitions as companies find new asbestos removal subcontractors.

Driving the news: In a contractor's meeting last week, demolition director LaJuan Counts advised contractors in the program to avoid using Detroit Environmental Solutions and City Abatement Services because they may be affiliated with companies or individuals the inspector general debarred.

  • Counts didn't describe the potential affiliation.

The other side: "Everything they said about my company is 100% false," David Gillespie, owner of Detroit Environmental Services, tells Axios.

  • City Abatement Services could not be reached.

The intrigue:The two companies can contact the city inspector general "to prove that case otherwise," Counts said at the contractors meeting.

  • The inspector general's office declined to comment.

Between the lines: The pool of demolition companies available to tear down vacant buildings keeps shrinking because companies have been suspended, expelled or simply left the program after dealing with too many headaches.

  • Fewer companies means costs could rise and the pace of demolitions could slow.

The big picture: Detroit claims its demolition program is the nation's largest, having removed more than 22,000 buildings since Mayor Mike Duggan took office in 2014.

  • The program spent more than $250 million in federal dollars and now relies on proceeds from a $250 million bond issue voters approved in 2020.
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