Whatcom County buys office, parking space downtown, will remove contaminated soil

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 23, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - Whatcom County will take ownership of a building it now rents on State Street that was found to have contaminated soil.

The property purchase, approved Tuesday, April 22, in a 5-2 vote of the County Council, also includes a parking lot a half-block away. Soil at the parking lot is also contaminated, according to samples taken as part of the county's inspection of the properties prior to purchase.

The council vote included a commitment to clean up both properties right away. Contamination areas are relatively small at the parking lot at 211 Champion St., and the health department offices at 1500 N. State St. Cleanup should cost less than $500,000, county Executive Jack Louws said.

Gasoline and oil byproducts were found in soil samples at both properties. The parking lot was formerly a railroad depot, and the State Street property had been a gas station and an auto repair shop.

The Goldfogel family will sell the properties to the county for $2.6 million. Including a minor renovation of the building and the environmental cleanup, the total cost is expected to be $3 million to $3.35 million.

Council member Rud Browne was among the majority. He said the county would get its money back in nine years because it won't be paying what Louws conceded was above-market rent for health offices, the morgue and the medical examiner's office on State Street.

Gary Goldfogel, whose family owns the building and the parking lot, is the county medical examiner.

The soil analysis concluded the properties could be used as they are without risking human or environmental health. But council member Sam Crawford, who proposed the cleanup, said in an interview on Wednesday, April 23, that the county has a responsibility to set a good example.

"I don't think the public wants us to have contaminated properties," Crawford said. "Even though we're allowed to let it go ... I think it's prudent and wise to go ahead and (clean it up)."

Council members Pete Kremen and Barbara Brenner voted against the purchase. Both said they didn't trust the cost estimate for the cleanup.

"It's going to be a problem property that's going to keep costing the county money," Brenner said.

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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