In Tampa, Florida, four men responsible for the conversion of the Indian Pass Apartments on Gulf Boulevard to the Barefoot Beach Resort condominiums were arrested on Feb. 18 and charged with violating environmental laws regarding asbestos removal procedures.
In the United States, asbestos is classified as a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act (first passed in 1963 and last amended in 1990). Clean Air Act provisions regarding asbestos – its nature, definitions of removal techniques, and removal standards – are itemized under the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulations.
Asbestos itself is a silicate-type mineral mined and widely used during most of the last century until health professionals began to recognize its dangers. In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA – the premier agency charged with environmental hazards – limited the use of asbestos to one percent or less of domestic products, by volume or weight.
The conversion of apartments to the Barefoot Beach condos actually occurred in 2004, during which the apartments were transformed into 164 units spread across six two-story buildings located on six acres.
James Roger Edwards, the project manager, pleaded guilty on February 14, which apparently led to the arrest and conviction of four other individuals: Guy Gannaway, 53, Safety Harbor; John Loder, 43, Reddington Beach; Keith McConnell, 54, Largo; and Stephen J. Spencer, 48, Clearwater.
Loder and Spencer were the owners of Sun Vista Development Corp., which was created to perform the administrative functions behind the purchase, remodeling and resale of the condo project, according to the indictment.
Loder, who was the lead manager of Sun Vista, also served as occasional head of the condo association formed after the units began renting. Spencer, as project architect, was reportedly responsible for dealing with asbestos issues surrounding the repurposing of the former apartment building. Gannaway was co-owner of Gannaway Builders and served – with his construction firm – as the project’s general contractor. McConnell, a Gannaway, employee, was project superintendent. Edwards became project manager in 2005.
The indictment involves a scenario in which the team discovered asbestos in the spray-textured ceilings of the apartment building and reportedly decided, rather than spending $300,000 for remediation, to cover the ceiling with drywall.
This required drilling into the asbestos coating, a method which Spencer reportedly proposed and the others agreed to. Not only did the recommended method of covering the asbestos required disturbing the asbestos, but workers performing the procedure were provided with little or no protective equipment or disposable clothing, as required under asbestos remediation regulations.
Gannaway, Loder, McConnell and Spencer are charged with violating the Clean Air Act, and with making false statements to environmental authorities to conceal their plan to avoid costly but essential professional asbestos remediation. The actual letters written to authorities to conceal this fact were reportedly written by Edwards, according to his plea bargain.
Loder and Spencer are part of a consortium of developers who reportedly defaulted on a group of projects in Pinellas County, forcing banks to take drastic measures to recover almost $90 million in mortgages for three projects: Seaside Villas; Shore Club Pasadena; and Snell Isle Club.
However, some of Loder’s projects did survive the recent real estate meltdown and subsequent recession, including Barefoot Beach Resort (Indian Shores), Pelican Pointe (Clearwater Beach), and the Redington Shores Yacht and Tennis Club in St. Petersburg, all apartment-to-condo conversions.
Sources: St. Petersburg Times, Tampa Bay Online, HOA News Network