Asbestos discovered during remodel in Bishop

Terrance Vestal
Managing Editor

As the city of Bishop moves toward mixed-use zoning – combining downtown commercial zoning with residential zoning – an issue that will have to be addressed during the process is asbestos.
Asbestos was front and center for a portion of Monday’s Bishop City Council meeting after two residents expressed their frustration with the city after the cancer-causing chemical was detected during an apartment remodel.
The building, which was purchased in January, is located at 512 W. Line Street and had three residential units upstairs with commercial space downstairs. The property owner, through the city’s Planning Commission, requested a conditional use permit to convert the empty downstairs space into residential units. According to the conditional use permit, it was understood that the tenants upstairs would remain upstairs until the downstairs units were completed. They would be moved downstairs while the upstairs units were remodeled.
At Monday’s meeting, Jonathan Bielik and Megan Domenech, who were living in the upstairs part of the building, said concerns were raised when they noticed the construction workers were wearing hazardous materials protective gear. Then they learned of potential asbestos exposure. They said their concerns were followed by frustration after apparently getting the run around from city staff.
“The surrounding area was potentially exposed to a large amount of asbestos over the course of three weeks,” Bielik said. “If it wasn’t for Megan calling relentlessly every time that she could call, if it wasn’t for her calling the right person eventually, then it wouldn’t have been stopped.”
Domenech said she was met with frustration initially with an objection regarding work hours, which had been set for 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Those hours are allowable in a commercial zone. The approved conditional use permit changed those hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the behest of Bishop City Council member Stephen Muchovej.
She said she was met with more frustration regarding the matter of asbestos because no one at City Hall seemed to know what agency handled such a situation.
“I’m frustrated with the city,” Domenech said. “It shouldn’t be that hard to be in this tiny community for anyone to care.”
Muchovej on Tuesday said he got a call from Domenech on Feb. 13 about the asbestos. Once he was alerted to the situation, he also began making phone calls.
“The health and safety of our residents is paramount and we started to try and figure out which is the agency that actually handles asbestos,” Muchovej said. “Is it the fire department? Is it Environmental Health with the county?”
Muchovej said within a couple of hours it was determined that the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District has jurisdiction in that situation. He said within three hours of receiving Domenech’s call, GBUAPCD staff were on site, they verified the presence of asbestos and the residents were placed in a hotel.
“And now we know for future situations where we need to go,” Muchovej said.
In an email Tuesday, Phillip L. Kiddoo, Air Pollution Control officer at Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District, stated that the district is aware of the incident. He suggested that people see the asbestos page on the district’s website, for more information on dealing with asbestos.
“Asbestos can be a problem with the renovation of any older structures,” Kiddoo stated. “To protect public health, the more regulations and requirements are disseminated and adhered to, the better.”
Muchovej said as the city moves forward with mixed-use zoning in an effort to revitalize downtown, asbestos could become an issue.
“There are a lot of buildings in town that need a lot of work,” Muchovej said. “This could become more common.”
Deston Dishion, director of the city of Bishop Public Works Department, said this situation will enact another part of the building permit process in conjunction with GBUAPCD.
“We have an interest in public health – that’s the important thing,” Dishion said. “There’s probably some asbestos in every building in town. We don’t want to stop anything but we have to ensure safety and health.”