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Landlord to evict Cheboygan tissue plant company after September fire

Demolition continues at 502 S. Main Street following a fire at a warehouse in Cheboygan.
City of Cheboygan
Demolition continues at 502 S. Main Street following a fire at a warehouse in Cheboygan. (Photo: City of Cheboygan)

The owner of the warehouse that burned down in Cheboygan two months ago says he’s taken steps to evict the company that occupied it.

Patriot Advanced Environmental Technologies is the group that ran the Tissue Depot across the street and used the warehouse at 502 S. Main Street to store materials.

The fire began at around 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 13 and firefighters fought the flames for nearly a whole day. No one was injured but there were environmental and air quality concerns which prompted authorities to issue a temporary one-mile shelter in place advisory that afternoon and local schools canceled their classes for Sept. 14.

Over two months later, Main Street has reopened but crews are still still in the process of demolishing the warehouse. Officials from the state Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were called in to oversee cleanup efforts and test the site for harmful debris.

State and federal investigators, including from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, have been looking into the fire, but still have not revealed the cause.

Thomas Homco represents Hom Thermo Warehouse XIII LLC and he’s owned the Main Street property since February. He says he hired an Ohio-based environmental consulting firm to comb over the EPA’s findings.

According to the report from August-Mack Environmental, there was no immediate and substantial danger to public health, safety and welfare in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

The warehouse contained large amounts of paper and plastic material called “poly” produced from the paper recycling and some coal ash. The EPA was also concerned asbestos had been released into the air.

But according to EPA site manager Corey Peaslee, asbestos did not escape into the surrounding area. It was mainly stored in the conveyor bridge over Main Street which was not touched by the blaze and has since been removed as part of demolition.

Homco said he had fronted much of the money for demolition, cleanup and environmental consulting. He said his tenant, Patriot Advanced Environmental Technologies, has been mostly unresponsive.

“Everybody's kind of scattered. When people say, have you talked to Patriot? Well, the real question is, who is Patriot?” Homco said. “It's really odd that I really don't have anybody to communicate with directly, it's very hard to find a warm body.”

IPR has also been unable to reach someone from PAET, which finalized the purchase of the tissue manufacturing facility, all associated operations, properties and an adjacent warehouse building in January.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ordered the company to shut down as it faced a lawsuit for allegedly neglecting payments on leased equipment.

Homco said the collective will be evicted Nov. 29, but that he hopes a new entity will step in to continue operations.

“I had no choice, I wanted to work with them the best I can, but they're in a very difficult situation,” Homco said. "I'll have an empty building, we're going to be looking to put a replacement tenant in there. Who knows? Maybe the new tenant will be the new entity with some infused capital, with some of the members of the old company, and hopefully some new ones as well.”

Michael Livingston covers the area around the Straits of Mackinac - including Cheboygan, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego counties as a Report for America corps member.