Court order favors AIR owner

The AIR building demolition in New Cumberland is showing progress since this time last year. Much of the roof has been removed, and the asbestos abatement is complete. (Photo by Stephen Huba)

NEW CUMBERLAND — A judge has found in favor of a Weirton developer who has been struggling for nearly two years to demolish an old industrial building in New Cumberland.

Hancock County Circuit Court Judge David J. Sims issued a default judgment in Ron Cross’ lawsuit against Aliquippa, Pa.-based contractor Unis Demolition–a victory for Cross in his ongoing effort to raze the old AIR building on South Chester Street.

Sims said in his order that neither the company nor the proprietors, Ralph and Joan Unis, had responded to Cross’ lawsuit since it was filed in September. West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure require a defendant to respond within 30 days.

Although the court found in favor of Cross, it is unclear whether the ruling will have any effect on the demolition schedule. Cross could not be reached for comment.

Cross sued Unis for breach of contract and fraud 20 months after hiring the company to demolish the AIR building and conduct asbestos abatement.

Instead, Unis removed “valuable” scrap metal from the site and failed to complete the contracted work, the lawsuit said.

State health officials ordered a halt to the demolition in April 2015 when asbestos was found in the roof. At the same time, the state Department of Environmental Protection found Unis in violation of state emission standards for hazardous air pollutants.

Specifically, the DEP’s Division of Air Quality said Unis failed to: inspect the facility for asbestos prior to demolition; provide a 10-day written notice of demolition; remove asbestos-containing material prior to demolition; and have a certified supervisor on site during the stripping or removal process.

After months of delay, Cross hired American Contracting Enterprises, of McKees Rocks, Pa., early this year to handle the abatement part of the project, and one of the state’s cease-and-desist orders was lifted. A second cease-and-desist order was lifted in September after the asbestos removal passed state inspection.

Once the home of American Industrial Recycling, the building previously housed a foundry, a metal stamping plant and a company that treated contaminated soil.

Cross, who purchased the property in 2013, hopes to market the site for economic development purposes once the building is razed.