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Erie County investigating whether road salt has compromised Rath Building's foundation

Mike Desmond

After years of looking at the upper floors of the Rath Building and spending millions of dollars on renovation and asbestos removal, Erie County is looking down into the foundations to see if there is a problem with road salt.

That may seem a little unusual, but it really isn't. There's a parking ramp down there, a tunnel which used to carry vehicles to the Main Place Mall parking ramp and two floors of storage space deep down underneath. The vehicles arrive covered with salt at this time of year.

Public Works Commissioner Bill Geary said a consultant will be looking for problems, although some are clearly visible.

"There is some of the line-of-sight issues that we have seen, that we have had infiltration issues," Geary said. "Like I said, it kind of goes in tandem with this asbestos abatement program, because this whole building is full with asbestos. It gives us that extra, in-depth analysis, nondestructive-type inspections of all those beams so that we can identify something before it's too late."

Geary said the big area to be checked is under the fire-proofing asbestos, which is not readily visible now.

"It was used everywhere, so a lot of these beams, it's a fire coating that's on the beams that all has asbestos," he said. "A lot of it's above the ceilings, where these beams are on a few of the floors. We have an asbestos team on staff full-time. Every time we try to update the building, they have to consider the asbestos abatement as part of those updates."

Once there is approval from the County Legislature, the consultant should start in January. If there are needed repairs, the public works commissioner hopes to have bid documents out and repair contracts let by the end of the year.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.