Tony Reed
Del Norte Triplicate

Several residents of Smith River waited more than two hours at Tuesday’s Del Norte County Board of Supervisors meeting to hear approval a contract Tuesday that will finally get debris from the “pink hotel” in Smith River cleaned up.

The pile of rubble has been there since a fire on May 6, 2017 burned two neighboring structures and the pink, two story structure.

The approval allocates $34,094 for hazardous materials abatement demolition and removal of debris and structures at 129 N. Fred Haight Drive.

“In the intervening 11 months since the fire the property owner has not made any progress in abating the property, which was officially declared a public nuisance by County Hearing Officer William Cater in August 2017,”said a staff report by Community Development Director Heidi Kunstal. “Subsequently, Cater ordered Code Enforcement Officer Dominic Mello to obtain an abatement warrant and abate the nuisance.”

According to the report, several hazardous materials surveys were done and a cost estimate was made. County Codes say that projects under $45,000 in total cost do not need bidding process and CDD negotiated with Cal Inc. to complete the project.

Attempts to contact owner Saffan Panahi were unsuccessful.

Smith River resident Jake Smith called the approval “good news” and “a positive step toward rebuilding the town. Smith, also a candidate for supervisor in the June election, expressed admiration for neighbor Vanda Reichlin’s effort to rebuild Alta’s Burger Bar, which was destroyed by the fire.

Resident Joni Forscht incited applause in the room by thanking Mello for his work in getting the area cleaned up.

“... and thank you to all the board members for sticking with this and carrying through, because it is so important to us to get this mess cleaned up,” Forscht said, adding she envisions a series of small shops along Fred Haight Drive in the future.

Resident Pauline Luttrell echoed the sentiment, calling Mello a “stellar employee that cares.”

Cost recovery, cleanup

Funding for the cleanup will come from the county’s contingency fund and its public nuisance fund.

Mello and Kunstal explained later that the county will not take possession of the property, but will add the cost of the cleanup, testing costs and staff time to the property owners taxes in two installments. That total amount comes to $41,700, they said.

“If the property owner fails to pay the amount, it will be the same as defaulting on one’s taxes,” Mello said.

Mello explained if taxes are not paid in five years, the county may then auction the property to recover costs.

Mello said the cleanup of the property will be complete by month’s end, leaving only a barren lot. He said some lead and asbestos were found in the rubble, which is not uncommon in buildings of that age.