Subcontractor pays city for cost of Soulard explosion

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by Diana Zoga / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on April 1, 2014 at 4:38 PM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 2 at 5:29 AM

Soulard explosion prompts evacuation

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 (KMOV) -- Less than two months after a subcontractor hit a gas line at 2222 Menard, the company’s insurance company agreed to pay the City of St. Louis $125,000 for the cost of the emergency response.

No one was hurt in the February 5th explosion, but the city says it spent $142,932.72 in taxpayer money to fight the fire, use police officers to enforce an evacuation, and condemn the building once it was destroyed.  After negotiations with the insurance company, the city agreed to take a payment of $125,000 and avoid a lawsuit.

“When you look at this to move forward, our goal is not to try and sue anyone.  It's really to re-cooperate the cost to us, as a city.  And, it's to make sure to let the neighborhood know that our job is to make sure we do things right for them,” said Richard Gray, Director of the Department of Public Safety.

Most of the city’s bill ($108,538.65) is attributed to the Forestry Division for the cost of removing four trees that are about 35 years old.   In a letter to the subcontractor’s insurance company, the city’s legal investigator wrote that it cost $24,186.55 for firefighters to respond, $9,848.60 for police to secure the scene, and $160.92 in time spent for the building division to investigate and condemn the building after the explosion.  The city also spent $198.00 to tow three vehicles from the street after they were damaged in the blast.

The subcontractor, Four Winds Construction, was not licensed to operate in the city.  The Beresford, South Dakota-based company was hired by a contractor who was hired by AT&T to dig a fiber line.  The crew hit a gas line instead. 

Gray says Four Winds is still not licensed in the city, but it is not banned from seeking a license in the future.

“Obviously, a company like this would face scrutiny in the process but we definitely would allow them to, if they pass all the right procedures that we have,” said Gray.

While the city says its case is settled, the owner of the building on Menard may have a longer road ahead.   The turn of the century, four story building at the corner of Menard and Shenandoah Avenue could not be saved.  It was demolished last month.  A chain link fence surrounds the edge of the property, that used to house offices for Stars Design Group, an apartment, and a condo that was under renovation. 

Building owner Bret Schnitker and his wife were just weeks away from moving into the condo when the explosion happened and their company has had to continue operations at other office space.

Schnitker says he’s not sure when he can rebuild.  He says the timeline will depend on the outcome of his own efforts to hold someone accountable for the blast.  He says his company intends to file a claim with AT&T. 

Tuesday, neighbors who were walking dogs, paused to look out over the now vacant lot. 

“It was very beautiful, a very good restoration,” said Marilyn Lane who once visited the building during a home tour. 

Derek Hunter, who lives two blocks away, said he’s relieved to hear the owners intend to rebuild in the same spot.

“We don’t want this just to be left alone”.

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