Daines Introduces Bill to Protect Local Governments From Abandoned Federal Buildings

U.S. SENATE —During National Asbestos Awareness Week, U.S. Senator Steve Daines today introduced legislation safeguard local governments from having to take ownership of old federal buildings filled with asbestos after bankruptcy. 

Daines’ bill requires the federal government to take into account commonsense factors when deciding whether a bidder for federal property is capable of fulfilling its financial obligations, preventing local governments from having to take possession of asbestos-filled buildings post-bankruptcy through tax liens. 

“A promise made must be a promise kept,” Daines stated. “An abandoned asbestos-filled building in downtown Billings could have serious health implications. That’s why I’m taking action to ensure this situation doesn’t happen again.” 

Joe Holden, member of WC Commercial, LLC, owner of the Stillwater Building – former James F. Battin Federal Building, Billings, Montana: “After the GSA sold the Stillwater Building at auction, the purchaser neglected it for years.  When we acquired the Stillwater Building it was full of asbestos and in need of extensive asbestos remediation on all five floors, including the walls, ceilings and floors.  WC Commercial, LLC is proud to announce it has almost completed the work.  But if we had not stepped in, the building would most likely have reverted to the city and been a burden on the taxpayers.  We think this bill is a step in the right direction to allow GSA to keep buildings from falling into the hands of irresponsible owners and to protect the local government taxpayers from being stuck with asbestos laden property.” 

Steve Arveschoug, Executive Director, Big Sky Economic Development: “It is critical that the GSA understand the needs of communities and the ability of developers to perform consistent with those needs. Senator Daines legislation will define that expectation for the GSA, which will help the agency and communities across the nation better partner on the redevelopment of old federal buildings. That approach would have been so helpful as we worked to support the redevelopment of the old Battin building. Thankfully, we now have an experienced and thoughtful developer whose efforts will support our vision for the redevelopment of downtown Billings.”

The James Battin Federal Courthouse in Billings currently sits unused after asbestos has been found on every floor of the building. In 2009, Big Sky Economic Development in alliance with the Downtown Billings Partnership facilitated the acquisition of the federal building with an assuring promise from the General Services Administration (GSA) that the purchaser could redevelop the building and provide asbestos abatement. Despite a purchase from an outside entity, the building still remains vacant and unused. 

Daines’ bill hopes to protect against future unused buildings by requiring GSA to review additional requirement from bidders to have assurances that the eventual purchaser can meet its financial and health obligations. The bill also requires GSA to coordinate with any local governments if they take possession of an asbestos-filled property post-bankruptcy. 

On March 30, 2017, Daines introduced a resolution to designate the first week of April as National Asbestos Awareness Week. 

The text of Daines’ bill is available to download HERE. 

Click HERE to download Daines’ comments on National Asbestos Awareness Week.