“Obviously, Cotton States (the homeowners’ insurer) is not going to pay for the removal of the debris,” Calhoun City Attorney Bill Bailey said in a Jan. 4 memo to city officials, “and the mortgagee, has not responded to … (City Administrator Eddie) Peterson’s request to clear up the debris.”
“If the city doesn’t move forward with some action there are a number of concerned neighbors who will want some action to take place,” he stated.
Bailey said the city’s next step in getting the property cleaned up, is to get permission from the homeowners. The city sent them a letter of consent for demolition and payment of costs dated Jan. 12.
If the homeowners fail to consent within 10 days of the date on the letter, Bailey said the city will need to obtain a nuisance and abandonment declaration for the property in municipal court to demolish or remove what is left of the house.
The city can get a lien on the property, which will stay on record for 7 years and can then be renewed, he said.
The lien would probably prevent foreclosure because if the property’s lending institution were to foreclose and take the property, that institution would have to pay off the lien to get a clear title, he explained.
The eventual payment of the lien will serve to reimburse the city for cleanup costs, he said.
The property will not belong to the city after cleanup; the deed will still have the homeowners’ names on it, Bailey stated.
If the city conducts the cleanup process there will be some major excavation involved, Council Member David Hammond pointed out in Monday’s council work session.
He asked Bailey if the city would be held legally responsible for any accidents that occurred on the property afterward.
There is usually no liability for discretionary actions like the cleanup the city is looking into conducting, Bailey explained. The city could also take some precautions like grading off the area that now contains a retaining wall with a steep drop, Peterson said.
The city has not been able to gain access to the property from Cotton States yet, Peterson said. A locked gate on the chain link fence prohibits entry.
The April 15 explosion was heard and felt as far away as Carbondale and Plainville and damaged more than 60 houses in the Calhoun area, displacing several families as their homes were repaired.
In August, former state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said the tampering associated with the gas lines caused the house to fill up with natural gas, but the igniting force remains a mystery. What caused the spark may never be known, he said.
He offered, at the time, a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect.
So far, no suspect has been named, and the reward is still being offered, according to a representative from the office of Ralph Hudgens, who is now insurance commissioner.
Anyone with information about the explosion is encouraged to call the arson hotline at 1-800-282-5804.
“You may not have enough for a conviction, but you might have enough to point investigators in the right direction,” Oxendine said.