RANTOUL – The village of Rantoul has agreed to pay a $4,446 settlement to the state for burning down a former Chanute Air Force Base building that contained asbestos.
The payment should bring an end to nearly two years of expensive problems brought on by the decision to use the old building for firefighter training.
"I'm glad to see that this is over," said Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams. "I'd like to see us move on."
The Rantoul Village Board is expected to approve the settlement payment at its meeting at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Rantoul Municipal Building, 333 S. Tanner.
The agreement was reached Thursday following months of negotiations between village attorney Ken Beth and the Illinois attorney general's office.
The latest payment will bring Rantoul's total bill to $93,046 in cleanup work and fines. In the spring of 2002, the village board approved spending $23,600 to have a professional asbestos removal engineering firm, Oedifice Engineering Inc. of Champaign, design a cleanup project. In October 2002, the board awarded a bid to Champion Environmental Services of Hoopeston to remove asbestos and do other cleanup work for $65,000.
The problem began on Dec. 9, 2001, when Rantoul firefighters burned down the old Airman Leadership School dormitory on South Century Boulevard at Tuskegee Avenue as part of a training operation.
After state environmental officials received an anonymous telephone call the next day alleging that the building still contained asbestos, the Environmental Protection Agency sent an inspector to the burn site in mid-December.
Of 12 samples taken at the site, 11 of them contained a low level of asbestos, and one contained a moderate level of asbestos.
Once used extensively as a fireproofing material, asbestos is a fibrous mineral that can cause respiratory problems and cancer if inhaled.
Village Administrator Gary Adams said the village was surprised to find the site still contained asbestos, since Rantoul had a contract with general contractor Harold Miles to remove any asbestos from the building prior to the burn.
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Kim Kutzman said the state asked the village to limit public access to the site.
It also asked the village to keep the burn site wet to prevent the spread of asbestos fibers through the air and to hire a professional asbestos removal engineer to develop a remediation plan.
Last fall, the Environmental Protection Agency referred the matter to the attorney general's office to pursue a fine against the village.
In the wake of Rantoul's experience with asbestos, Williams said the village will be more cautious in demolishing other buildings on the former base.
"We want to make sure that we follow through on all the proper procedures in the future," Williams said. "We will check everything to make sure all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed."
You can reach Tim Mitchell at (217) 351-5366 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.