Consultant: Fuel tanks could be leaking at Ferndale jail site


FERNDALE - Geologists will examine the soils and groundwater at the proposed site for a new Whatcom County jail, looking for contamination from an old hazardous-waste pit and underground fuel tanks.

The Whatcom County Council voted 7 to 0 on Tuesday, July 9, to pay jail consultant DLR Group an additional $38,000 for the contamination study, along with tests to determine how the soils could support a large single-story building as envisioned for the new jail and sheriff's headquarters.

County officials have one site in mind for the jail, a 40-acre property on the northwest corner of LaBounty Drive and Sunset Avenue in Ferndale.

DLR Group has hired geotechnical consultants Hart Crowser, Inc. of Seattle for the soil studies.

A proposal letter dated July 2 from Hart Crowser to DLR Group said the geotechnical firm will use the same sample wells to test soil structure and contamination levels near the former hazardous-waste pit, near the southwest corner of the property. No added wells will be needed, the letter said, because recent studies have shown the pit is not contaminating the jail property.

The contractor will dig extra sample pits to check another possible pollution source. The letter said one or two underground tanks were once used to store petroleum products north of Friese Hide and Tallow, the animal rendering plant to the west of the jail site. County officials are concerned the tanks are leaking into the ground on the west end of the jail property, where wetlands would be established as part of jail construction, the letter said.

The underground storage tanks were removed, possibly in 1996, according to an email from Tawni Helms in county Executive Jack Louws' office.

The testing will "double-check for any potential contaminants resulting from the storage tanks," the email said.

The environmental and soil studies bring the total amount of the contract between the county and DLR Group to $491,902.

The county's consultant will release a report in September to include jail size, basic building design, and estimates of the cost of construction and ongoing operation of the jail. The council must decide by December whether it wants to buy the property for the jail.

County officials are pursuing a new jail due to overcrowding and safety problems at the existing jail and separate work center, which together can house up to 470 inmates. The new jail is on track to open in 2017.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or Read his Politics blog at or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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