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January 05, 2018 10:11 PM

Newly Obtained Photos Show Asbestos In Former Copper Lounge Building

Sioux Falls, SD

We're getting our first look at the asbestos that was inside the Copper Lounge after it fell down.  

The South Dakota Department of Environmental Resources was on the scene to determine if the cancer-causing material was inside -- something pretty typical in old buildings.  

KELOLAND News Investigates has obtained the DENR's asbestos inspection reports and brings us an update, including pictures of the asbestos-lined pipes clearly visible after the collapse.  

The state DENR was on the scene of the building collapse to make sure any hazardous material was removed and destroyed properly.  

It was during their routine inspection that they discovered previous asbestos must have been removed as the building project got under way.  

According to state documents, that's when they discovered that Hultgren Construction didn't follow the rules when it came to taking asbestos out of the building prior to the collapse.  

KELOLAND Investigates obtained a copy of the state's report which shows all the information gathered in the asbestos investigation and what Sioux Falls City officials didn't know about it. 

Four days following the building collapse the Department of Natural Resources performed an asbestos inspection on the Copper Lounge building. 

The report contained pictures of what they found--asbestos lined pipes and pipe fittings.  

Several photos show the pipes. Another shows "suspect paper" meaning it could contain asbestos, above metal ductwork.  

Because there was clear evidence of asbestos after the collapse the state wanted to know how the rest of the asbestos had been taken out during the remodeling.  

Included in the state's report is a series of emails between the DENR and Hultgren Construction's attorney.  Aaron Hultgren did not respond to the state himself, but directed all questions to his lawyer.  

The attorney told the state that no other company did an asbestos inspection and the Hultgren crew removed the asbestos themselves and didn't have the proper training or certification to do so.  

That prompted a deeper investigation into where the asbestos ended up.  The DENR worked with the City Landfill.  

KELOLAND News sat down with Public Works Administration director Mark Cotter. 

Kennekce: They had to work in conjunction with the City correct?  
Cotter: They did. 
Kennecke: And so you knew about the investigation and what was going on with that, the parties involved and all of that?
Cotter:  I didn't know about that particular investigation--my staff is a high functioning staff that works closely with the DENR.  They would have comprehensive authority on any asbestos investigation. 

The City says it was never notified that the companies run by Aaron Hultgren and Norm Drake-- the owner of the Copper Lounge building were fined $20,000 for violations.  Even though the state settled with both Hultgren and Drake's companies on May 3rd, DENR tells us it did not notify the City of that settlement. 

"One of the things we've done with the state is when you issue a violation would you send us a notice a copy of that going forward," Cotter said. 

The City could also have imposed its own fine, but did not. 

Kennecke: Why didn't the City fine the people involved--Norm Drake and Aaron Hultgren for the asbestos, improper asbestos removal--after you found out from the DENR?  
Cotter: I think from our standpoint they were the comprehensive authority. They conducted the investigation and we cooperated with it. They had already taken those steps and so we didn't feel like we would take a second step to it. 
Kennecke: But you could have?  
Cotter: There could have been at a much different amount.  

The City could have imposed a fine between $100 and $500. 

The City landfill is monitoring the area where the asbestos was dumped.  

When KELOLAND News sat down and talked with Cotter, we also talked with Mayor MIke Huether who admitted that City Hall should have known about the state's asbestos investigation and its results.  

"My initial reaction was why didn't I know about this? Mark came back and said you know mayor we have a really good relationship with the DENR and this will be a lesson learned," Mayor Mike Huether said. 

But that's not all KELOLAND Investigates asked Huether about.  The controversy over using the same developers, for the mixed use city parking ramp, that played a role in the building collapse has been a hot topic in the City. We asked the Mayor about the City's decision to stick with Legacy, despite its CEO's connection to the state's asbestos investigation.  


Kennecke: Is it prudent to proceed with him as a guarantor on this project, knowing he has been fined for this environmental violation.
Huether: And the name?  Who's the party?   
Kennecke: Norm Drake.  Norm Drake, with Legacy.  
Huether: I think this is a project that there has been such an incredible amount of time, effort and due diligence.

Coming up on Monday night  on KELOLAND News, we'll have more of the Mayor's response to this question as well as why the City says you should have complete confidence in the upcoming parking ramp project.  
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