Municipalities Should Adopt Salvage and Demolition Ordinances

By Arthur J. Harrington, Godfrey & Kahn, s.c.

Municipalities across the state have experienced the pain of manufacturing plant closings. Plant closings have a considerable adverse impact not only on employment but also have a potential for leaving vacant buildings as a blight on the landscapes in these communities. 

Without careful planning, vacated buildings can attract scrapping companies who desire to acquire the buildings for the sole purpose of stripping them of valuable material and leaving building structures which have no useful purpose. In these situations, the vacant shell of a building does not provide good options for municipalities as they consider their limited options for such blighted properties.

Forward looking communities should adopt salvage and demolition ordinances before plant closings occur in their communities. This article provides a short description of the recommended salvage and demolition ordinances as a method to mitigate the risk of blighted properties resulting from plant closings.


A municipality should adopt ordinances which will deal with not only the salvaging of non-structural materials but also the required demolition of the remaining structures. These local laws will ensure that the municipality has approved appropriate activities on the property and that the contractors are operating in a safe manner which is not detrimental to the community. These ordinances, if adopted in appropriate form, would regulate the removal of salvageable materials so that what is remaining is a usable site after such salvaging occurs or, if not usable, would require the demolition of the remaining structure as a candidate to receiving a requested permit. The regulations also will assure that such salvage and demolition activities will occur in a manner that prevents health and safety hazards, as well as nuisances, and also afford the municipal officials access to the property for inspection as such salvage and demolition processes are being completed. It may surprise many municipal officials that very few state statutes regulate the manner in which demolition and salvaging must occur other than specific laws dealing with asbestos, lead-based paint, and other hazardous materials. As a general rule the state laws do not regulate the type of non-hazardous material that can be removed from a building or the manner in which demolition must be completed. For this reason a model salvage/demolition ordinance should be considered by the municipality.

It is recommended that salvage and demolition ordinances contain the following components:

Permit Application. Require the filing of a permit application with the municipality before such salvage/demolition activities occur.

Application Requirements. The application process should include detailed project schedules, budgets and a requirement that all removal take place in accordance with applicable law.

On Site Recycling. The ordinance should regulate the type of recycling that can occur on site as well as the hours of operation for such recycling operation.

Letter of Credit as Security. It is recommended that the applicant provides an irrevocable standby letter of credit as a condition for obtaining the required permit. This letter of credit should be in an amount sufficient to secure the obligation of the applicant to perform salvage and demolition activities in accordance with the ordinance and applicable law. In the event the applicant breaches its obligations, the municipality is afforded the opportunity to have direct access to the standby letter of credit and complete the project in accordance with applicable law.

Insurance Requirement. A condition of approving the appli-cation should include the issuance of appropriate comprehen-sive general liability and pollution legal liability insurance for the applicant.

Right of Access and Inspection. The ordinance must provide the municipal officials with the opportunity to inspect the site as a condition for issuing the permit to ensure that all opera-tions are being conducted in accordance with applicable law and the ordinance.

Orders, Fines and Penalties. The ordinance should also provide the municipal official with the ability to issue cessation orders when the municipal officials discover conditions on the site that are not in accordance with the ordinance or appli-cable state law. The ordinance should also provide the ability to enforce fines and penalties against the applicant for failing to conform with the conditions of the permit and applicable ordinance requirements.

Status Report Requirement. The ordinance should provide a regular reporting requirement which identifies the salvageable material that is removed from the site and identifies hazard-ous materials encountered during the demolition and salvage operations.

Completion. The ordinance should also make clear the condi-tions that must be met in order for the project to be complet-ed. Project completion is a necessary pre-condition to release the standby letter of credit referenced earlier.

The presence of the recommended ordinance provides import-ant leverage for municipal officials to ensure that such salvage and demolition projects are completed in accordance with the best interest of the residents of the municipality. Wisconsin DNR has prepared a model salvage ordinance which could be utilized by municipalities who are considering such an ordi-nance. See SNR RR-988 Modal Ordinance for Removal of Sal-vagable Non-Structural Materials from Vacated Buildings (May 2014). However, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has not adopted a model demolition ordinance. A number of municipalities, including the cities of Kenosha, Two Rivers and Oshkosh, have adopted such ordinances. It is strongly recommended that municipal officials consider the adoption of such ordinances to prepare for future manufacturing facility closings in their respective communities.

Corresponding Legal Caption

Ordinances and Resolutions 503