Village probes items removed from building

Skip Schulz/For the Gazette Several Ontonagon-area residents commented Monday on suspicious activity documented last week at the former Wagers Restaurant, a building designated for demolition.

The Ontonagon Village Council chambers were packed Monday to hear comment from area residents reporting the removal of equipment from the former Wagers Restaurant, a building designated for demolition using state blight removal funding.

Numerous residents alleged items were removed during the early morning hours on April 17 by an Ontonagon County contractor.

Aske if the demolition project had begun, village employee Tanya Weisinger said, “There has been no work done by any contractors. That’s the truth.”

Weisinger went on to say that everything in the building has to be inventoried.

“So people have been going in with the manager (Joe Erickson), with permission,” she said.

In comments to the council Monday, Tom Hamilton said, “I didn’t know you guys were in the restaurant business.”

Ontonagon Township resident Sue Lockhart asked the council if anything is being done with regard to items being taken out of the building. She indicated photographs and videos have been taken of the activity.

Lockhart said the demolition project has not gone out on bids, “nor has any advertising for bids began. Why was anyone allowed to go in there?”

The project has received a grant of federal money for the project.

Another individual who did not identify himself asked whether the village has received the money for the demolition project.

“Did we get the grant yet?” he asked. “I thought we were waiting for the grant.”

Village President Ken Waldrop stated the grant has been approved, but the village has not received the money.

The concern Jeff Lemke had was the removal of items that had asbestos, a hazardous material. “Who gave permission to go in there and cut things out, knowing about the asbestos?” he asked. “All those people did not have haz-mat protection, and now they inhaled it. It should have never been done.”

Lockhart said a police report has been filed. She thought the council should have filed the police report.

Hamilton stated he checked with the Ontonagon County Sheriff’s Department.

“They didn’t even know there was anyone down there,” he said. “I don’t know why a couple people in the middle of the night would be down there helping to load up gear. … I hope there is an investigation on this. This isn’t the first time this has happened.”

Waldrop stated the building was entered by Norm Pestka and a couple employees on Wednesday. “Thursday we came down to the office, (council member) Tony Smydra and myself. We went into Joe’s office. We wanted to get clarity on the subject. He explained what was going on, which we are still investigating when it comes to equipment removed from there.”

Waldrop went on to say, “It is very serious to this council. It’s also important that we get it right.”

Waldrop then stated that since this happened early Thursday morning that they talked to Pestka and Erickson on Thursday.

“Friday was a holiday so the office was closed, and today is Monday,” Waldrop said. “You are wrong, we are investigating this. Now if there was a crime, absolutely we have to determine that. If we did go that route, it would be a state investigation.”

Waldrop said the investigation is ongoing.

“If you think a conflict on the bidding process has happened, you’re sorely mistaken,” he said. “… You can make all the accusations you like, but you’re wrong.”