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The Rock Island County Courthouse.

ROCK ISLAND — The city will issue a Stop Work Order if Valley Construction begins demolition of the Rock Island County courthouse. 

Mayor Mike Thoms said Monday that until the Rock Island County Public Building Commission had obtained the proper permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the city would not issue a demolition permit and would halt any attempt at razing the structure.

Rock Island County Circuit Chief Justice Walter Braud filed an administrative order Friday ordering the county board and Public Building Commission to raze the courthouse as soon as possible. 

"No just cause or legal reasons exist for further demolition delay," Braud wrote. "By administrative order, the chief judge hereby orders the demolition of the Rock Island County courthouse."

Thoms said city attorney Dave Morrison advised that a demolition permit should not be issued until a storm water runoff plan had been approved by the IEPA and a permit had been approved by IDNR. 

"The city attorney feels at this point that we still need a permit from IDNR before we issue a demolition permit," Thoms said.

"We can issue a Stop Work Order to the contractor," Thoms said. "Hopefully, we get it resolved before we get to this point. The contractor could be caught between a rock and a hard place; they are being given orders by two groups. It's not fair to put them in the middle."

The Public Building Commission approved a bid of $430,490 from Valley Construction during their Nov. 29 meeting. It was the only company to submit a bid for the project. 

Public Building Commission Chairman Brent Ganahl could not be reached for comment.

Thoms said the city could be held liable for giving special preference to the county if the city allowed demolition to move forward. 

"If the (county) meets the requirements, they should have their permit," Thoms said. "We are not trying to pick a side; we are doing what is fair. We would hold anybody's feet to the fire."

In his order, Braud said demolition of the courthouse can proceed without a permit from the city. 

"Demolition or renovation is at the option of the building owner," Braud wrote. "In this case, the county board has elected demolition."

"Our thoughts are that (Braud) is wrong," Thoms said. "We do not have a common understanding on how the law reads. We are still negotiating back and forth; no resolution has been reached. Our attorney is trying to find case law. My understanding is that we do not have to get a court order on this."

Braud could not be reached for comment. 

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The overall project initially had a permit, but when it was discovered that demolition of the courthouse was not included in plans for construction of the Justice Center Annex, submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office — an arm of IDNR — for approval in 2016, the permit was revoked. 

Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Bob Appleman notified Mike Harnung of Missman Inc., about the decision in a letter dated Nov. 29.

"The letter of compliance issued by SHPO dated Oct. 13, 2016, is hereby revoked," Appleman wrote.

Gilbane Building Co., project manager for the annex, submitted a new permit application Dec. 13, notifying the IEPA of the storm water runoff plan and storm water pollution prevention plan.

Edward Cross, director of communications for Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said Jan. 17 that no decision had been made on granting a permit at that time.

In his Jan. 25 order, Braud said the permit application had gone 30 days with no notice of incompleteness being received by the county. As such, Braud claims the permit is "deemed approved."

In his order, Braud said the circuit court is not subject to, and therefore exempt from the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act.

"The Department of Natural Resources therefore lacks jurisdiction and authority to review the courthouse demolition decision," Braud wrote. "No DNR approval is required."

Nevertheless, Braud did not send his administrative order until after 30 days had passed from when the permit application was submitted. 

"We are reviewing the judge's decision, and we will continue to work with the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to evaluate compliance with applicable legal requirements referenced in the administrative order," Cross said Monday. "Additionally, we will continue to review all options available to the agency."

Landmarks Illinois, the state's largest historic preservation advocacy agency, sent a letter Jan. 16 threatening legal action if the county proceeds with demolition without the proper permit in place. 

The agency issued a statement Monday after receiving a copy of Braud's order. 

"Landmarks Illinois stands by its comments made in its Jan. 16, 2019, letter to the Rock Island County Public Building Commission. Landmarks Illinois will continue to advocate for the preservation of this historic site and is currently reviewing all legal options available to us." 

Rock Island County State's Attorney John McGehee could not be reached for comment. 

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