Snohomish has safeguard in hand if Pine Ave. Property is heavily contaminated
SNOHOMISH — Soil contamination at the planned Pine Avenue public safety campus may not end up sticking the city and fire district with a big cleanup bill.
Fire District 4 is buying the 1.5-acre block of Pine Avenue between Third and Fourth streets for an eventual new fire station headquarters from the owners of Steuber’s Distributing Co. The city would be buying a portion of the block from FD4 for a future City Hall and police station.
Contamination of Tetrachloroethylene, a common dry-cleaning and degreasing solvent also known as PCE, was found on the property.
How much and what else is not known.
The district also has a holdback clause to withhold money from the final purchase price to cover some contamination costs as well.
As of Oct. 9, Fire District 4 expected to take ownership of the property soon.
The city is still awaiting a full contamination report as of Oct. 8, city spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.
If it’s heavily contaminated, though, the city has taken the safeguard to hire a specialty firm that investigates old land insurance policies.
The specialists dig deep to see whether the general insurance policies of the time had exclusion policies regarding pollution and contamination, said consultant Ben Pariser with the firm Restorical Research. (Insurance companies also used “slip-and-fall” liability exclusions, too.) In 1985, the Supreme Court determined these liability exclusions were not enforceable. The family that ran Steuber’s owned the land before 1985. Any insurance policies which may have excluded pollution is the angle they’d pursue to file insurance claims against if the ground is polluted.
The firm describes its niche field as “insurance archaeology.”
If they can recoup funds through insurance claims, they’ll be taking 10% of the recovery proceeds. If they can’t, their fee is $400.
In September, City Council members felt this was a no-brainer to use the firm, and voted 6-0 to hire them.
“All this work together is to help protect taxpayer dollars,” Snohomish Fire Chief Don Waller said in September.
In related news
• State law obligates that when government agencies buy land, the people displaced are owed moving and rent offsets. The law requires Fire District 4 to underwrite paying for moving the inventory inside Steuber’s to a warehouse or similar location, and also provide rent assistance to some of the people in the houses on the block.
Fire District 4 is paying $163,000 to Steuber’s owners to relocate their inventory, and a combined up to $186,816 in rent supplements to the members of the family members who co-own the block but live in houses on the land and need to move, and up to $57,750 in rent supplement to a tenant living in a house on the block.
It’ll add up to as much as $426,778.33. As there’s a 57%-43% arrangement split between the city and the fire district, the city will chip in 57% ($243,263.65)
The fire board approved the expenses Oct. 9.
• Fire District 4 will have a firm test the structures on the Pine Avenue property for asbestos before anything can be demolished.
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