Grant to be sought by city to help cover cost of asbestos removal from former St. Elizabeth Hospital

Monday’s hearing for Steve Owsley, owner of the former St. Elizabeth Hospital, had been billed as the “drop-dead” date when the ongoing legal saga involving the city of Hannibal would finally reach a conclusion. However, when Owsley walked out of the Marion County Courthouse in Hannibal he did so with a “new life” in the form of 60 more days in which to resolve an asbestos issue that has been discovered within his Virginia Street property.

During Owsley’s last appearance before Tenth Circuit Court Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd on April 7 he had been granted a 60-day extension to clear the hurdles that were preventing him from selling the former health-care site to another developer, who was identified Monday by local attorney Jeffrey Curl as Ales & Co. of Iowa.

City Attorney James Lemon advised Judge Shepherd of the “new issue” that has arisen. Lemon told the Courier-Post that the asbestos was discovered during inspections by the prospective buyer.

Curl told the judge that the city, Owsley and Ales have been working together to resolve the latest issue, but added that more time is needed. Lemon suggested that another 60-day extension might be enough time.

Will two months be enough time to resolve the asbestos issue, or to complete both the cleanup and finalize the sale?

“In a perfect world it would be to deal with all of it. However, there is some possibility that there would be a transfer prior to the asbestos issue being corrected,” said Lemon, who believes the proceedings are headed toward a positive resolution. “It does not appear that Mr. Owsley is going to be capable of turning this property around. The buyer has a clear plan to make this senior housing, thereby changing this from a drain on the city and neighborhood into a positive force.”

The primary role being played by the city is to seek a grant to cover all or part of the asbestos remediation expense.

“The city of LaGrange recently was able to get a grant to clean up asbestos in the old school,” said Lemon. “We would be seeking a similar grant for this project.”

Lemon praised Owsley for being “very cooperative” regarding the providing of access to the sprawling complex of buildings, some of which date back over 100 years.

Judge Shepherd asked if the city was satisfied with Owsley’s efforts to keep open doors sealed and broken windows boarded. Lemon said the facility remains “appropriately sealed.”

Owsley’s court-appointed attorney, Sara Ehret, noted that it has been a while since Owsley has made a payment toward the $3,338.32 he owes the city for the manpower and materials that were necessary to seal the first floor doors and windows. Ehret said that her client remains committed to paying off what he owes, but is facing financial challenges. Judge Shepherd asked if Owsley could make a $100 payment by July 7. Owsley indicated that he would.

Owsley’s next appears before Judge Shepherd regarding the former St. Elizabeth Hospital on Monday, Aug. 21, at the Hannibal courthouse.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at