Damage caused to a neighboring property by Garland Trice's condemned building provided the legal basis for the City of Pine Bluff to tear the structure down, according to city officials and documents. Pine Bluff Fire Chief Shauwn Howell declared an emergency on Tuesday, April 18, after receiving a call around 9 a.m. on April 11 from Lloyd Lee of Lee and Company, PA, Certified Public Accountants, regarding additional damage to Lee's building. Lee's building is located next to Trice's building at 618 Main Street.

At the scene, Howell found that the remainder of the third floor's northwest corner of Trice's building at 620 Main Street had collapsed into the southwest corner of Lee's building. The falling debris penetrated “the roof line, causing severe damage to the interior and collapsing the two exterior air conditioning units,” Howell wrote in the declaration of emergency.

Trice's building had deteriorated to the point that it was vulnerable to collapse during severe weather, Howell wrote. He cited damage sustained to Lee's building from falling debris from Trice's building on Jan. 11 “after an extended, heavy precipitation.” Storms also occurred on April 11 and 17.

“It is common knowledge that thunderstorms are a common occurrence in the month of April,” Howell wrote. He declared an emergency and ordered the building's demolition “due to the anticipated weather patterns and the instability, deterioration and continuous collapse of said structure.”

Howell cited the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code 2012 Edition Section 110 Unsafe Buildings and Chapter 16 of the Pine Bluff Code of Ordinances to issue the order. Under Section 110 of the Fire Code, a fire code official who finds that a building “constitutes a clear and inimical threat to human life, safety or health … shall refer the building to the building department for any repairs, alterations, remodeling, removing or demolition required.”

Chapter 16 of the municipal code deals with “nuisances.” In particular, Chapter 16-2 (a) gives the fire chief the power to enact “summary abatement of unsafe and dangerous structures”:

“Upon certification by the police chief, fire chief or chief inspector, any building, house, walls, or party walls or any portion thereof, chimneys or other structures, which are or become unsafe and constitute an immediate danger to the public health and safety because of fire, excavation, abandonment, improper erection or construction, or from any other cause, shall summarily be razed and removed or made secure by the inspection department.”

The declaration of an emergency gave the city the authority to sign contracts with a construction firm and an asbestos remediation company without going through a state-mandated competitive bidding process, City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott said.

The city signed a building demolition agreement on April 18 with Wagner Construction, Inc. of International Falls, Minnesota, to demolish the Trice building and haul the debris to a dump site. The contract was signed by Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Wagner Construction Chief Financial Officer Marty Goulet. Goulet is also the director of local wood pellet manufacturing company Highland Pellets.

The contract does not specify payment.

“Contract will be on a time and material basis using federal approved rates and include an insurance fee,” the contract states. “Payment shall be made upon completion of the project.”

The city signed another contract April 18 with North Little Rock-based Snyder Environmental and Construction Inc. to manage the cleanup of asbestos-contaminated debris in the Trice building. The contract states that the city will pay Snyder $15,544 for the work. That money is coming from the city's general fund, Hadden-Scott previously told the Commercial. Snyder is required to complete the work by May 4. The contract was signed by Washington and Justin Dixon, president of Snyder Environmental.

Hadden-Scott said the city did consult other contractors, but settled on Wagner and Snyder with speed in mind.

“We needed someone as soon as possible,” Hadden-Scott said. “Other [contractors] needed additional time. They weren't able to address it immediately.”

Wagner was chosen because it had equipment in the area, she said.

“We just made a couple phone calls,” she said. “I'm not really sure who made the phone calls. There were phone calls that were made to different contractors to tear down the building. We had already had an asbestos study, and a structural engineering study. Snyder was one of the people that provided that study, so we went with them.”

Demolition is expected to be complete by Wednesday, April 26, Hadden-Scott said. She said a lien has been placed on Trice's property. Once demolition is complete, he will retain the property. If he sells it, “we will then recoup our costs,” she said.

Hadden-Scott said that as far as she knew, no city officials had spoken with Trice since the building's most recent collapse. Trice was found guilty in October 2016 of failing to obey a nuisance abatement order by the city to demolish his building. Judge Jodi Raines Dennis ordered Trice to demolish the building within 30 days or spend 30 days in jail. He was also fined $1,000. Hadden-Scott said Trice appealed that decision.

“His attorney is supposed to submit a brief on the 28th of April,” she said. “That's all I know. I haven't been contacted by his attorney or Mr. Trice.”

Reached by telephone by the Commercial Thursday, Trice declined to comment on his reaction to the city's demolition of his building.

“I'm not able to answer any questions at this time,” Trice said.

Asked whether he intended to pursue further litigation against the city, Trice said, “No comment.”

A phone call to Trice's attorney, Willard Proctor, went unreturned Thursday.