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Owners of downtown building demolished in Aug. 22 explosion pay for cleanup

After eight months of haggling with insurance company, Commonwealth Campus Corporation covers cost of removing debris

Eight months after a natural gas explosion and fire demolished the former Achillion Greek Cuisine restaurant and injured three people in downtown Prince George, the pile of wreckage left behind has finally been cleaned up.

Commonwealth Campus Corporation, which owns the property at 422 Dominion St., paid the more than $100,000 cleanup cost to have the eyesore removed, after months of waiting for the insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, to complete the claims process and cover the cost.

“We’ve been wanting to clean it up for a while and we’re doing it,” said Commonwealth president Dan McLaren.  “The insurance company is still looking for reports and few other things which we’re giving them and they’re painfully slow. We’ve given them robust amounts of reports and they say we’ll get back to you and months go by. They’re very frustrating so we finally said we’ll clean it up ourselves, which we’re doing now.”

Police and fire investigators have determined the early-morning Aug. 22 explosion was caused by vagrants who broke into the building and cut a gas line while trying to steal copper piping. The gas was ignited when one of them tried to light a cigarette.

A city parks worker who smelled gas was seriously injured by the blast as she was walking away from the east entrance to the building. Two other people were taken to hospital with minor injuries.

The explosion exposed a 1,400 square foot basement that took up part of 6,600 sq-ft building’s imprint and Commonwealth was concerned about liability in the event someone got through the fence of the property and fell into that three-metre deep hole.

The cleanup started last week and is expected to be completed later today.

Before that could occur an environmental report and work permit had to be obtained. The building debris had to be sorted into piles of wood, metal and concrete at the site before it was hauled away to the dump.

McLaren said, in the interim, the site will be paved with recycled asphalt and will be used as a 20-spot parking lot.

At the time of the blast, the building had been listed for lease/sale for several years by Commonwealth. It hadn’t been used as a restaurant since the Achillion closed on Oct. 29, 2016 when owner Kostas Iliopulos retired after 32 years of operating the popular eatery.

Commonwealth bought the building in 2010 before construction of the adjacent UNBC’s Wood Innovation and Design Centre, when there was speculation the entire block would eventually be turned into a downtown university campus.

The west face of the Wood Innovation building was extensively damaged in the explosion and fire and repairs of that, as well as the damaged storefront  façade along Brunswick Street, have been completed.

In a notice of civil claim, Trevor Sakamoto, whose company Encore Promotions Inc., owns Heartbreakers nightclub on Fifth Avenue, is seeking damages from the City of Prince George, saying the explosion damaged the club‘s exterior cladding, HVAC system and other external machinery, and also broke windows and spread toxic materials into the interior.

Sakamoto has insurance for some but not all of the damage caused by the explosion and that coverage was discounted due to the building’s age and condition. He was forced to close the club for repairs and he is also seeking compensation for loss of profits due to the closure.

The City had denied responsibility.