The Flamingo Motel fiasco is over after EPA inspectors approve debris cleanup

The remains of the Flamingo Motel at 6893 Waterloo Road in Atwater. Natalie Wolford/The Portager

Two potentially toxic waste sites created by the legally dubious demolition of the former Flamingo Motel in Atwater are now clean, environmental regulators said.

Sam Rubens, air quality administrator for the Akron Regional Air Quality Management District, which works with the Ohio EPA, said the agency closed the case the first week of October. An EPA inspector was on site to ensure compliance, he said.

The Rootstown-based contractor HEPA Environmental Services, which is licensed to handle hazardous materials, completed the cleanup in early October. The company had bid $76,600, but only charged about $72,000, Atwater Trustee John Kovacich said.

Atwater’s troubles started last summer, when trustees agreed to pay Jeremiah Johnson of Fox Contracting $12,500 to demolish the former motel, located at 6893 Waterloo Road. Johnson, who could not be reached for comment this week, initially billed the township $10,600 for the job, which he was forced to abandon.

Johnson eventually accepted a $6,000 payment, Atwater fiscal officer Linda Allen said.

The Flamingo had been used for residential purposes for years, and the trustees thought it was zoned residential, trustees Charlie Harris and John Kovacich said. No one checked, and Johnson never pulled a permit.

Zoning mattered because each township is allowed to raze one residential structure per year without a county permit, Harris said. Buildings zoned commercial or industrial cannot be razed without county permits, which would have triggered an automatic asbestos inspection.

On July 8, Johnson started demolishing the structure, taking the debris to his property at 5185 Eberly Road in Randolph. He said he intended to take it from there to a landfill at a later date. However, a resident saw Johnson offloading the debris in Randolph and alerted Randolph Trustee John Lampe, who called the EPA.

Without proper permits and inspections having been done, the EPA immediately shut down Johnson’s demolition, leaving debris piles at both sites. The trustees were left to find qualified contractors, who submitted quotes approaching $100,000.

“It’s not just [Johnson’s] negligence that started the problem,” Harris said. “It started with us because we were the ones responsible for getting the asbestos survey, and we did not.”

County Building Director Randall Roberts said the only two people able to pull a county permit are the property owner and the contractor, and that Johnson, an experienced contractor, should have known better. 

“The contractor should have come to my office and said, ‘I need to have a permit to demo this building,’ even if he didn’t know the details,” Roberts said last August. “At that point we would have shared with him all the prerequisites in writing. It’s a document. We would have handed him that, and said, ‘You go take care of these things, and when you’re done, bring the evidence of these things being completed, in writing, and with those things in writing, we will issue you the permit to demo.’”

Harris said there are a lot of fingers to point and that he’s just glad “it’s done and over with.” 

“Now we can get back to the job of making Atwater great again,” Harris said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.