January 23, 2019

City of Chicago accused of hiding asbestos

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) –

It was an underground surprise they hadn’t bargained for.

A southwest suburban contractor is suing the city claiming it hid dangerous asbestos buried under a construction site.

The site is now a police station on the near South Side at 14th and Blue Island.

The 12th District Chicago police station has been open for two years. However, the battle over what was discovered underground will rage on.

Fox 32: you call this an act of fraud?

“I did. And we do. We believe they fraudulently induced Harbour contractors to enter into the contract,” said attorney Charles Lewis.

Lewis represents Harbour contractors of southwest suburban Plainfield, which has filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the Public Building Commission of Chicago. That agency, which is headed by the mayor and made up of political appointees, is in charge of building and financing new construction for the city of Chicago and Cook County.

In 2010 the Public Building Commission, or “PBC,” awarded Harbour a 20-million dollar contract to build the new police station at 14th and Blue Island, on the site of the old ABLA public housing project.

The PBC said that the site had been inspected by an environmental company and nothing dangerous was found. But soon after construction began, a subcontractor employed by Harbour discovered underground heating pipes wrapped in cancer-causing asbestos running throughout the property.

Those pipes were installed in the 1930s and 40s to provide heat to the public housing buildings.

“You’ve got asbestos that has been dug up that is friable. It’s in the air,” Lewis said. “It creates safety hazards for Harbour’s people and the subcontractor’s people on the job site.”

The asbestos discovery also put the project on hold, which Harbour said cost them millions of dollars. As part of the lawsuit, Harbour filed to recover the funds. The company said it has uncovered evidence that the PBC knew about the asbestos, but ignored it.

Harbour alleges the agency instructed the environmental company inspecting the site to not dig test pits in areas where it knew there was asbestos.

In an email from 2011 included in the lawsuit, a PBC official refers to a drawing used “…to avoid the steam lines during test pitting activities.”

“Absolutely they were trying to hide this,” Lewis said. “Because it would cause tremendous delay to the project and additional cost.”

A PBC spokesperson said the agency categorically denies there was any attempt to hide the asbestos, saying it was a surprise to them, too, noting that a judge has dropped two of the fraud counts from the lawsuit.

The PBC said Harbour needs to file a claim under the contract to get any money it’s entitled to, and not file suit.

Harbour has helped build dozens of projects for the Public Building Commission, including the international terminal at O’Hare. But the company’s attorney says after this experience, no more.

“My client will never work for the Public Building Commission again. I’m sure there are a number of general contractors out there who won’t work for the public building commission again,” Lewis said.

The Public Building Commission paid for the asbestos removal at the site, but Harbour contends the delays cost it millions. The PBC concedes some of that, but said there were other cost overruns by Harbour that had nothing to do with the hazardous materials.


City of Chicago accused of hiding asbestos