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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    City places lien on New London church property

    New London has placed a lien on the former First Congregational Church property on Union Street, shown here on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. (John Penney/The Day)
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    Evacuators demolish the structure and clear rubble Monday, Jan. 29, 2024 at the First Congregational Church in New London following its collapse on Jan. 25. (Sarah Gordon/The Day file photo)
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    New London – The city has placed a lien on a Union Street church property in an effort to recoup the $244,646 in costs it incurred after a January steeple collapse.

    The lien, filed on Friday, seeks reimbursement from the Engaging Heaven Ministries, which purchased the former First Congregational Church at 66 State St. for $250,000 in 2015.

    Bills for the response to a January church steeple collapse – and the subsequent demolition and securing of the site – exceed a quarter of a million dollars, according to invoices and other documents obtained by The Day through a public records request.

    Those invoices include both third-party and city costs related to the Jan. 25 steeple collapse, including approximately $10,000 in regular pay to city workers who responded to the disaster scene that is not being added to the ministry’s bill.

    Mayor Michael Passero on Monday said the lien was not “an aggressive move” by the city, but rather a way to protect the city’s interests.

    “When (Engaging Heaven) pays us, the lien comes off,” he said, adding the ministry was informed about the lien before it was imposed.

    Passero said the city would likely pull the owed amounts from various capital project accounts.

    “And as we get paid back, we’d reimburse those accounts,” he said.

    Overtime, demolition and security bills

    An invoice submitted by the Manafort Brothers construction firm alone totaled $150,067, a price tag that included labor, equipment, material and clean-up costs, a Feb. 6 bill details.

    Manafort crews were at the scene of the Jan. 25 steeple collapse hours after the spire fell onto a supporting roof. Workers operating pieces of heavy equipment spent days raking through the piles of twisted metal, granite blocks and wood that were formerly part of the 174-year-old building. Those same excavators later tore down the damaged church, which was home to two congregations at the time of the collapse.

    A $10,418 bill was presented to the city on Jan. 31 by the Eagle Environmental Inc. company for its work in overseeing air monitoring services and conducting asbestos analysis of the site.

    The erection of a 550-foot long, 6-foot-high temporary fence by Total Fencing, LLC around the demolition site will cost $28,076 and “field observations” by the e2 engineering firm, along with its investigation into the probable cause of the collapse, came in at $8,145.

    Several of those bills, including those submitted by e2 and Eagle Environmental, are due next month.

    The collapse prompted an emergency response from several city departments. Members of the New London Fire Department tallied 272.5 “call-back” hours from Jan. 25-26 that totaled $13,113.

    “Those call-back hours happen whenever we have an incident involving a second alarm or greater,” Fire Chief Thomas Curcio said on Monday. “And on that first day (of the collapse) we held several firefighters late at the scene and have to pay them for those hours.”

    Over the course of four days during the week of the collapse, the fire marshal’s three-person investigative unit spent 85.5 hours at the site at a cost of $5,002. Public works employees from Jan. 25 to Feb. 8 worked $4,388 worth of overtime and the department spent $1,891 on a pair of light towers that were used to illuminate the disaster site 14 hours a day for more than a week after the collapse.

    Various City Hall officials, including those from the building, economic development and planning departments spent hours at the site for a total of $2,709. Felix Reyes, director of economic development and planning, is due $448 in overtime, the invoice states.

    The cost for a police presence at the collapse site for 460 hours totaled $28,636, with the bulk of that amount listed as overtime pay, Chief Brian Wright said on Monday.

    James Levesque, founder of the Engaging Heaven Ministries group, which operates churches in West Haven, Montana and Florida, previously said the ministry was prepared to reimburse the city for all costs related to the collapse.

    Levesque, who met with city officials earlier this month, could not be reached to comment on Monday at his ministry’s Madeira Beach, Fla., headquarters.

    j.penney@theday.com

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