‘Toxic’ dispute between county, company has staffers on lookout
LE MARS — A dispute over residue from a remodel of the Plymouth County Courthouse’s large courtroom has taken a toxic turn — literally.
A contractor is threatening to drop off nine barrels of “toxic material” at the courthouse parking lot, according to Supervisor Mike Van Otterloo. It could happen as soon as today (Friday, March 17), Van Otterloo said during the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday.
Paul Davis Restoration of Sioux City is holding the nine barrels of material, primarily lead paint, that was air-blasted off the courthouse ceiling during a 2021-22 remodeling effort.
Paul Davis claims the county should pay for the disposal of the material, which could cost as much as $40,000. The county counters by saying disposal was part of the contract the company agreed to when it was hired by L&L Builders Co. of Sioux City, the general contractor in the project.
L&L Builders was awarded the contract after submitting a bid of $604,200. There were some change orders, Auditor Stacey Feldman said.
The project included the renovation of the judge’s chambers, removal of lead paint, replacing carpet, relocating the jury box, removal of the current ceiling’s texture and repaint, updating furniture, salvaging woodwork as well as electrical improvements. It took place from October 2021 through March 2022.
Shawn Olson, the county’s information technology director, and Lonnie Bohlke, courthouse maintenance manager, kept an eye on the work as it was being done. Both spoke during Tuesday’s meeting.
Olson told the Le Mars Sentinel that Paul Davis workers propelled aggregate against the ceiling to remove the lead paint. The aggregate and paint were then scooped up and placed in barrels.
Feldman said once the county recognized the ceiling paint had lead in it, the bidding was delayed a week to communicate that to the bidders. State law indicates the company that removed the paint is responsible for disposing of the material, said Jordan Metzger of Stone Group Architects from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, who spoke to the board about the issue.
Van Otterloo said he has spoken with L&L Builders and Paul Davis Restoration staffers, and has found it difficult to reach an agreement with the companies. The nine barrels were removed about a year ago, he said.
“That toxic material is still being stored on the Paul Davis property,” Van Otterloo said.
County Attorney Darin J. Raymond asked the supervisor to refer to it as lead paint, not “toxic material,” but the term was repeated throughout the discussion, which was divided by a matter on the agenda. When it resumed, the supervisors discussed what to do if the barrels are dropped off.
Supervisor Craig Anderson said he thinks it’s wrong to assume the county is responsible, since it’s unclear what is in the barrels came from the courtroom. Van Otterloo, a retired Plymouth County sheriff, agreed, saying there are “chain of custody issues.”
Chairman Don Kass said he doesn’t understand why this dispute is coming to a head now.
“There is no way,” Kass said. “So I smell a rat.”
Anderson said if a vehicle appears and tries to drop off the barrels, the sheriff’s office should be contacted at once and any person who attempts to do so should be “arrested for improper disposal.”
Raymond cautioned the supervisors about having a county employee touch the barrels if they are dropped off, both for safety reasons, and because if they are handled by a county worker, that could have legal implications. The supervisors said if they are left on county property, they would be marked off with tape and the public would be kept away from them until they could be removed.
Feldman said the parking lot is monitored by cameras 24 hours a day.
The officials agreed on one thing: they think this is about the cost of disposing of the nine barrels.
“It all comes down to money,” Feldman said.
Paul Davis Reconstruction General Manager Harold Smith declined to discuss the matter with the Le Mars Sentinel.
“I have no comment,” Smith said on Wednesday.
An L&L Builders staffer said no one was available to comment on the dispute.
In other courthouse developments, the supervisors continued an ongoing discussion on the courtroom heating system. Since the renovation was completed last year, the room has been cold, with the boiler system unable to heat the room above 68 degrees.
Metzer offered options to the board, including adding to the boiler system, installing electric heaters that would match the look of the current heating system, or adding electrical heat elements into the duct system.
Metzger said the heating problem only arises in extremely cold weather, and there have been a few such days this winter.
“It’s an emergency heat situation,” Kass said.
The supervisors asked Metzger to report back on expanding the boiler system. They said with winter drawing to a close — hopefully — the problem could be resolved before the end of the year brings a fresh blast of icy air.