Laboratory tests have confirmed what city officials suspected: Old floor tiles and vent pipe unearthed during excavation at America the Beautiful Park in July contain asbestos.
The asbestos lies in an area that's not accessible to the public, so it doesn't pose a danger to citizens' health, says Chris Lieber, a city parks official. Still, regulators take the cancer-causing substance seriously and require appropriate disposal, and that will be costly.
The $320,000 Creekside Project got underway in late June, designed to remove a berm separating Monument Creek from the park and to add a natural creek bank area, a crossing to the west side, and a playground built with logs and boulders. The project was supposed to be finished by December.
But on July 11, Colorado Springs Utilities, which was providing excavation as an in-kind contribution to the project, unearthed the tiles, according to a timeline Utilities provided to state regulators and obtained by the Independent through an open records request. The project was halted immediately and testing begun.
As Utilities said in a memo to city parks officials on July 14, the earth work revealed not only the tiles but also "miscellaneous undocumented debris" which could pose a "potential concern for construction worker health & safety" and "storm water quality, and/or future users of the site."
Utilities recommended the city hire an environmental consultant, which it did. The city immediately placed "rock socks" around the site to prevent water from washing the debris downstream and sprayed the site with tactifier to seal any dust, Lieber says. The area in question, which covers about 5,600 square feet on the park's southwest edge (on the creek's east side), already was fenced to accommodate construction and keep the public out.
The tiles proved to be the less dangerous "non-friable" type of asbestos, which doesn't become airborne, though if broken such tiles can be friable.
Then, on July 29, an asbestos inspector collected an additional sample that proved friable. That finding triggered the need to notify the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the timeline says.
Lieber says parks officials are working on a soils management plan that will be submitted to state environmental authorities in a few weeks. The plan will outline whether any asbestos will be buried in place, which is allowed under state regulations, or hauled to a hazardous waste disposal site.
After the plan is approved, an asbestos inspector will oversee the project to help identify suspect materials, Lieber says. "At this point, we would anticipate that, yes, there likely would be additional tiles [discovered]," he says.
How that affects the project cost isn't known yet, Lieber says, because the project also is undergoing a redesign. "We hope we can realize cost savings in the redesign to help us recover the cost of the asbestos," he says. "But yes, it's going to cost more."
The improvement project is funded by Great Outdoors Colorado and the Downtown Partnership. For additional costs, the city could tap a conservation trust fund or the Parks Department budget, Lieber says.
Prior to the shutdown, Utilities says in an Aug. 21 memo to the city, about 1,000 cubic yards of [dirt] material were stockpiled on site, and 3,000 cubic yards hauled to Utilities' Sand Creek Recycling Center, northeast of Stratmoor Valley on the city's south side.
Though it was unclear whether those materials contained asbestos, Utilities was required to mitigate the recycling site. "As soon as we found out that stuff was possibly contained in that soil," says Utilities spokesman Steve Berry, "we contracted to have it removed." It's been taken to a landfill designated by the state, he says.
The state has been in touch with the city regarding the asbestos, says CDPHE public information specialist Freddy Arck via email. The state also approved removal of the disposed dirt from Sand Creek Recycling Center, Arck says.
The city hasn't had to treat the recycling center or America the Beautiful Park as a hazardous-waste disposal facility — which is noteworthy, considering a recent decision by the Solid and Hazardous Waste Commission.
On Aug. 19, the commission adopted "the most onerous regulations in the country" for pre-disposal management of asbestos-contaminated soil, according to a lawsuit filed against the state and other parties by Utilities and the city and county of Denver on Oct. 31.
Berry says the suit aims to get the regulations set aside, because "the potential costs to our customers are astronomical."
The commission stated in a justification for the rule that "inhalation of asbestos fibers [causes] more types of illness and more severe illness than was understood" in the past.