COFO Bldg. Cleanup Halted

Debris cleanup at the demolition site for the historic COFO building in Meridian has not resumed since Monday. That's when the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality sent an inspector to the site after receiving a complaint. That inspector collected samples of debris from floor tiles, sheet rock and so forth to test for asbestos.

According to MDEQ Communications Director, Robbie Wilbur, some things that are required for a demolition were not done in this situation. For example, he says demolition requires an asbestos inspection report, and submission of a project demolition form to the MDEQ office. In this case, he says neither of those things were done.

This revelation has come as a surprise to John McClure, who is the Community Development Director for the City of Meridian.

"One of the questions is, 'Is there a compliance issue with state law, or with federal law with either the DEQ or with the feds and the Corps of Engineers? The applicant had told us, 'no'. So, we consequently issued the permit," says McClure.

If traces of asbestos are found, the contractor could face a monetary fine based on the amount of asbestos in the project, and his or her compliance history. Meanwhile, McClure says the city will not face such a fine.

"We weren't there looking in any way. We did what we were supposed to and to my knowledge we're not vulnerable to any charges of that nature."

McClure says the contractor projects that cleanup work will resume within the next week to ten days.

The Council for Federated Organizations, which is also known as COFO, was founded in 1962. It served as a "one stop shop" which brought together the resources of four prominent civil rights groups which were: the NAACP, SCLC, CORE and SNCC. During the 1960s the organization had locations throughout Mississippi. One of those offices was in the former Fielder and Brooks building in Meridian, which in recent years was often referred to as the COFO building.