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Request That the NYS Attorney General Investigate a Potentially Improper Condemnation of the Asbestos-Contaminated Tompkins County Public Library Based on a False Instrument Prohibited by the NYS Penal Code

November 20, 2018

Honorable Barbara Underwood
New York State Attorney General
The Capitol
Albany, NY 12224-0341


I write respectfully to request that the Office of the New York State Attorney General take urgent action to halt a "controlled demolition with asbestos in place" of the former Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca, NY until you investigate whether false written statements or instruments prohibited by the New York State Penal Code referenced below resulted in an improper building condemnation that avoided a $500,000.00 asbestos containment and removal action mandated by state law.

Asbestos pollution matters are often plagued by corruption and result in toxic pollution hazards. I request that you make sure the abandoned library cannot be demolished unless all asbestos-containing materials are removed. Based on the documentation I am providing herein, this is clearly the legal mandate that must be enforced in order to safeguard public health.

This request is supported by more than 740 signatories to a: Coalition Letter Which Requests That Ithaca Mayor Myrick Require All Asbestos-Containing Materials to be Removed From the Former Tompkins County Public Library Building Prior to its Demolition

Engineer Provided Two Library "Structural Conditions Assessments" That Reached Totally Opposite Conclusions Based on the Same Site Inspection

I provide for your review two versions of an engineer's "Structural Conditions Assessment" of the abandoned library. As you will see, the August 20, 2018 "Structural Conditions Assessment" is a revised version of the original August 8, 2018 assessment.

The two assessments are almost exactly word for word except that they reach totally opposite conclusions based on the same site inspection conducted by a Professional Engineer licensed by the State of New York pursuant to strict ethical requirements.

The contradictory conclusions are highlighted in a comparison of the engineer's original and revised: Dewitt Library Structural Conditions Assessment, Ithaca, NY - Original 8/8/18 and Revised 8/20/18

The original August 8, 2018 version determined that while "the existing metal [roof, not in the original] deck is a hazard," "Generally speaking, the interior of the building can still be accessed until the first snow fall in 2018 (emphasis added)."

This conclusion would have supported completion of a proposed $500,000.00 library asbestos abatement of "the entire building interior, or approximately 20,000 square feet per floor" that would be conducted prior to the demolition of the abandoned structure according to state law.

This comprehensive asbestos abatement would have removed all asbestos under full containment barriers with negative pressure and would have taken two months to complete.

See: Proposed Asbestos Abatement At The Former Tompkins County Library

The revised August 20, 2018 version determined, however, that, "Doing this [asbestos abatement, not in the original] work would potentially put personnel at risk of falling debris from deck failure."

The consulting engineer did not provide any technical rationale for his totally different conclusion by documenting additional site inspection or investigation findings. This is deeply troubling to say the least.

Comprehensive Asbestos Abatement Prior to Demolition Avoided Due to Library Condemnation Granted by City of Ithaca

On August 23, 2018 the developer of a luxury housing project at the library site wrote to request that the City of Ithaca permit the abandoned building to be razed through a "controlled demolition with asbestos in place" based on the Revised August 20, 2018 "Structural Conditions Assessment."

See: Letter from Travis Hyde Properties and Ex Libris, LLC to Mr. Michael Niechwiadowicz, Director of Code Enforcement, City of Ithaca, August 23, 2018

This type of demolition only requires the asbestos debris to be wetted down instead of being removed prior to demolition under rigorous containment requirements.

The request was fulfilled by the City of Ithaca in a letter dated 9/4/18 which condemned the library because it is "structurally unsafe and a danger to human life."

See: City of Ithaca 310-314 North Cayuga Street Condemnation Order (9/4/2018)

False Written Statement and Instrument Violations According to the NYS Penal Code

The City's condemnation of the library was not supported by the original August 8, 2018 "Structural Conditions Assessment" and is based solely on the Revised August 20, 2018 assessment.

It is inexplicable why the City of Ithaca did not accept the original "Structural Conditions Assessment" and instead fulfilled a request from the developer to permit a far less protective "controlled demolition with asbestos in place" of the library.

Given the Professional Engineer's lack of technical explanation for his totally different conclusion in the Revised Assessment, I request that you determine whether the City's condemnation decision potentially involved false statements or instruments prohibited by the New York State Penal Code.

See: "S175.35 Offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree.

A person is guilty of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree when:

1. knowing that a written instrument contains a false statement or false information, and with intent to defraud the state or any political subdivision, public authority or public benefit corporation of the state, he or she offers or presents it to a public office, public servant, public authority or public benefit corporation with the knowledge or belief that it will be filed with, registered or recorded in or otherwise become a part of the records of such public office, public servant, public authority or public benefit corporation;"


I have never heard of a New York municipality granting a developer's request to permit a "controlled demolition with asbestos in place" of a massive abandoned building in a densely developed residential neighborhood even though the developer's own consulting engineer determined that the legally mandated removal of documented asbestos contamination could have been completed prior to demolition.

This library matter also warrants your attention because the City of Ithaca has reportedly authorized more than 30 "controlled demolitions with asbestos in place" during the last 20 years instead of enforcing its property maintenance code and requiring comprehensive asbestos abatement with full containment, negative pressure. The most recent demolition without asbestos removal reportedly occurred within the last two weeks.

I worked for many decades with your office's Environmental Protection Bureau. I trust that you will find my request to be well-documented and self-explanatory, but please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions. I am entirely open to your input.

The signatories to the above-referenced coalition letter believe that all of the asbestos-containing materials must be removed prior to the library's demolition as required by New York State law. All of the documentation that I am providing for your review supports that assertion.

Please note that the abandoned library could be demolished any time after this coming Thanksgiving.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of my request and for your long-standing public service.

Very truly yours,

Walter Hang

cc: Honorable Barbara Lifton
Honorable Thomas F. O'Mara
Honorable Members of the Ithaca Common Council
Honorable Members of the Tompkins County Legislature