A version of this post briefly appeared this afternoon with wrong information. It was based on my mishearing of county Executive Jack Louws' statement to council. The post was remotely pulled from The Bellingham Herald's website, as I didn't have the ability to correct it from my location at the time. I decided to pull it because the information in it would have been very misleading. What shows here is essentially 80 percent original post, with the good information replacing the bad. The erroneous post misstated what Louws would recommend to council regarding the property purchase. -RS
It's very much up in the air whether the County Council will vote tonight to purchase the Goldfogel family's building at 1500 N. State St., and a nearby parking lot, for a little more than $2.5 million.
While reports of contaminated soil underneath both properties say they can be used without risking human or environmental health, the possibility of an expensive cleanup may be a deal-breaker.
The building currently houses 40 or 50 health department employees. The county rents space in the building for that department and for the morgue. Goldfogel, the county medical examiner, has his offices and his private business in the building.
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The soil at both properties under consideration -- the State Street property and a nearby parking lot on Champion Street -- was contaminated by prior uses. The State Street lot was a fuel station and an auto repair shop. The Champion Street property was a railroad depot.
Executive Jack Louws told council members at an 11 a.m. committee meeting today that if the council doesn't want to purchase the properties, he will recommend tonight that council extend the county's leases on the State Street building into fall 2017.
In that case, Louws said, the council might consider using a county-owned building for the morgue. It's off East Bakerview Road in the Irongate neighborhood, and a former location of the Whatcom Humane Society.
He said the feasibility of the building hasn't been fully explored, but setting up a morgue in the building would cost between $1 million and $2.5 million.
Louws said in a conversation with this blogger at 3 p.m. today that he will recommend the council make the purchase. Of course it's the council's decision.
Council will meet at 6:15 p.m. tonight (about an hour from now) in a closed session to discuss the property acquisition -- a topic that meets the requirements of a not-for-public-eyes "executive session." The purchase will be discussed at tonight's open public meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.
A majority of council members supported the purchase when they first discussed it in November, including Pete Kremen. He had said the deal was favorable for the county because it included some 110 parking spaces. Earlier today, Kremen indicated he had had a change of heart.
"With those parking spaces could also come a fairly significant bill in terms of environmental cleanup," Kremen said.
"I think it would be a wise, prudent investment for the county to pursue an alternative to the site on State Street."