Contamination confirmed at Bellingham properties sought by county

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 1, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - A follow-up study in January confirmed that groundwater and soil were contaminated at two downtown properties Whatcom County might purchase. The opinion of the study's author was that the properties - an office building at 1500 N. State St. and a parking lot at 211 Champion St. - could continue to be used without risk.

The County Council will have to decide whether the level of contamination at the two sites is a deal-breaker.

Council members will meet with county Executive Jack Louws and county attorneys in a closed-door meeting on March 11 to weigh their options, Louws said on Friday, Feb. 28.

"We'll proceed from there based on the direction given," Louws said.

The executive presented the proposed purchase to the council in November, saying the administration would convert the 22,157-square-foot building on State Street into a one-stop permit center.

County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel owns the building and the parking lot a half-block away. Most council members liked the proposal and the purchase price - $2.6 million for two properties that were appraised at $3.557 million.

Renovating the building could cost up to $2.3 million more, Louws has said. Now add on top of that possible cleanup costs.

"It is our opinion that the identified soil and groundwater does not currently pose a risk to human health or the environment," said the study, dated Feb. 12 and prepared by Stratum Group of Bellingham. "However, future excavations at the site could cause soil and groundwater contacts that would pose a risk."

Such a release of contaminants would need to be reported, the study said, and the properties would be put on a state list of contaminated sites. Even then, no cleanup would be required. The list would only "serve as notice that contaminated soils or groundwater are present," the study said.

Two recent soil samples taken at the building site found excessive levels of gasoline and naphthalene, a hazardous chemical produced by burning oil. The property was a gas station or auto repair shop from 1930 to 1985. It now houses some county Health Department offices, the county morgue and Goldfogel's private business, Avocet Environmental Testing.

Testing for the Stratum Group study was conducted by ALS Laboratory Group in Everett.

One of the samples taken in shallow soil in the parking lot showed an excessive amount of cancer-causing poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, which are found in oil deposits. The parking lot was formerly a railroad depot.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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