Asbestos cleanup goes longer than expected, residents concerned


BOZEMAN, Mont. - Delays have stalled an asbestos cleanup project in downtown Bozeman, raising concerns with neighbors and businesses. Viewers reached out to NBC Montana to find out what's happening with the project, saying they weren't getting answers.

Workers started pulling up the concrete sidewalk next to the Heebs Market the first week of June. The project was supposed to wrap up in the beginning of July.

Glen Deal owns Lockhorn Cider House on Wallace Avenue in Bozeman. The business opened in February, but Deal said the last month has been tough. He explained an ongoing asbestos hazard cleanup project that's blocking the sidewalk is not helping.

"The most objective thing to blame would be that ugly hole," Deal said.

Lockhorn Cider House relies on foot and bike traffic, and said since the sidewalk has been closed, they have fewer customers coming their way. Deal wanted to know why it is taking more than a month to clean up the site.

"We just don't see a lot of movement over here," he said. "We don't see a lot of progress."

"We have to follow the DEQ's strict guidelines on excavating," explained Brit Fontenot, the Director of Economic Development for the City of Bozeman. He explained testing is holding the project up.

"You have to stop work, you have to take that sample, and you have to send it to the lab," Fontenot said.

The soil samples they tested keep coming back positive, forcing them to stop work and retest.

"It's one of the most expensive sidewalks in Bozeman at this point," he said.

So far, the cost is $70,000. But the City has a financial stake in making sure it's done right. They will get nearly 80 percent of the cost back if they follow DEQ standards.

Fontenot said they now expect the project to wrap up next week, but Deal said he wishes he would have known sooner.

"I'd like to see more attention given to managing these projects well," Deal said.

Fontenot explained while the project is inconvenient, the project is a matter of public health and safety, and the city will take as long as needed to do the job correctly.

One neighborhood resident asked if the site being exposed for so long would create an asbestos hazard. The City of Bozeman says the site, although an eyesore, is being properly and safely maintained. The Gallatin City County Health Department the site needs to stay wet and covered, so the asbestos does not become airborne, where someone might breathe it in.

"They're very cautious about raising that dust, so any project whether it be here in Bozeman or elsewhere, you keep a very careful about raising that dust, so there's simple precautions to do, but they have to be done," explained Environmental Director Tim Roark.

The City of Bozeman said the asbestos problem won't go away on its own, and they will have to do more projects like this in the future. They explained they plan to communicate better with the surrounding neighbors, and to come up with a better process for future projects.