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Asbestos concerns delay Powell River Public Library renovations

Job site shut down after WorkSafe BC inspection
SAFETY ORDER: City of Powell River and its contractor Futurevest Investment Corporation are working to clarify the location of asbestos in the new library building after WorkSafe BC ordered all work to cease. Chris Bolster photo

Renovations on Powell River Public Library’s Crossroads Village Shopping Centre location have stalled again, this time due to concerns over a possible release of asbestos fibre at the worksite. WorkSafe BC issued a stop-work order on Thursday, November 3.

A worksite safety inspection found that a wall, thought to be coated with material containing asbestos, had been removed. At the time of the inspection, general contractor Futurevest Investment Corporation could not prove that proper safety procedures had been followed during its removal.

City of Powell River director of infrastructure and library project lead Tor Birtig said a WorkSafe BC inspector was in town on another matter when he visited the worksite unannounced on Tuesday, November 1.

“The inspector noted that the wall had gone missing, so he asked Futurevest for an abatement report and at that time they did not have one,” said Birtig.

According to a statement from Futurevest Investment Corporation, the company is working with the city to resolve an issue with a pre-renovations hazardous materials survey “where information was incorrectly reported.”

A City of Powell River 2014 hazardous materials report by Levelton Consultants indicated that walls in the loading area of the building were coated with a drywall joint compound that contained asbestos. The wall that was removed, however, did not contain the material, though the report did not indicate that.

A spokesperson for WorkSafe BC said the provincial agency would not comment on the details of the stop-work order, but could provide a copy of the report through its freedom of information process.

According to the stop-work order, without proof that asbestos abatement safety protocols had been followed, the WorkSafe BC board must conclude that “asbestos fibre has been released into the workplace in an uncontrolled manner.”

According to the order, the provincial agency will allow work to continue after the contractor can prove the missing wall was removed using “an appropriate asbestos abatement process,” or the entire renovation site has been properly decontaminated and cleared by WorkSafe BC.

According to Futurevest, construction will resume as soon as the amended documents are provided to WorkSafe BC. “We trust this will rectify the situation,” the statement read.

Birtig said he thinks the incident is a case of overstatement and misunderstanding. The wall that had been removed was not an original wall, having been built only 10 years ago, he said. It was not treated with the same joining material as the other walls in the area, he added.

“Futurevest removed that wall knowing it had been constructed recently and wouldn’t have asbestos in it,” he said. “The hazardous materials report painted the area with too broad a brush.”

Birtig said the contractors have been careful to stay away from disturbing the walls that are coated with the joining compound.

“If it doesn’t get disrupted, then it’s not an issue,” said Birtig. “It’s only when a wall gets modified that it becomes a problem.” He added that it is fine to paint over the contaminated walls.

The original 2014 hazardous material report was created as part of the city’s due-diligence process as it looked at possible locations for the library.

Birtig said the city has contacted the author of the report to update and clarify the issue for WorkSafe BC.

“We’re waiting for a response from WorkSafe BC to see if that’s adequate to cover it off,” he said.

After months of delay due to debate over building code issues, renovations on the new library location had started back up at the end of October.