County plan to buy Bellingham building on hold after contamination found

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 11, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - Whatcom County officials put on hold the purchase of an office building at 1500 N. State St. and a nearby parking lot at 211 Champion St. after finding contaminants in the soil and groundwater.

The building site was a gas station or auto repair shop from 1930 to 1985. One of five soil samples taken around the exterior of the building exceeded state standards for gasoline and naphthalene, a hazardous chemical produced by burning oil. Three of five groundwater samples at the same locations had chromium, lead or oil-related hydrocarbons at levels above the state's acceptable maximums.

The parking lot was a railroad depot, and multiple rail lines went by that property as late as 1975, according to an environmental report on the two properties given to county Executive Jack Louws on Monday, Dec. 9. Two of four soil samples from the parking lot had excessive poly-aromatic hydrocarbons as shallow as 6 inches below the surface. The cancer-causing chemicals are found in oil deposits.

The next step is for the executive, in consultation with the county Health Department, to decide whether the properties could pose a safety risk or require an expensive clean-up, Louws said on Wednesday, Dec. 11.

"(The report) identified a couple areas of concern that we need to study and then make a decision whether it's in the best interests of the county to buy the building," Louws said.

The county currently rents space in the building for Health Department offices. If the sale goes through, the county would move the permit offices for the Health, Public Works and Planning departments into the 22,157-square-foot building, to create a "one-stop" permit center.

The building is already home to the medical examiner's office and the morgue, and they would remain there.

County Medical Examiner and building owner Gary Goldfogel also has his private business there, Avocet Environmental Testing.

Goldfogel said in an email to The Bellingham Herald on Wednesday that he will give the county Executive's Office an extension on the purchase agreement, which was to expire at the end of this month.

"We are fully cooperative with the administration on the property," Goldfogel said.

The agreed-upon sale price is $2.6 million for the two properties, which were appraised at $3.557 million.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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