Consultant: No contamination clean-up required in Snohomish Pine Avenue block

Screenshot of an aerial view of the Pine Avenue block taken by the City of Snohomish or its sources during March 2024.

Screenshot of an aerial view of the Pine Avenue block taken by the City of Snohomish or its sources during March 2024.

SNOHOMISH —  A third consultant concluded there is no contamination which requires site cleanup in the block of Pine Avenue where there are plans for a future fire station and Snohomish city government buildings.

The firm GeoEngineers wrote a professional opinion March 15 that a cleanup will not be needed as the site stands. They sampled the subsurface soil for PCEs such as tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene as well as for other chemicals.

They recommended a contamination management plan be in place if deeper digging from construction encounters contaminated soil near old fuel tanks on the site. The estimated contingency cost for that is $150,000.

Three contamination detection firms all determined the site’s groundwater is not contaminated.

A prior consultant hired by the city of Snohomish, though, told the city soil cleanup would be necessary. The family that owned the property disputed these findings; a different consultant they hired found nothing that met that extent. 

GeoEngineers’ findings broadly line up with the separate company the family hired out of pocket.

The land transfer from the family to Fire District 4 has been undergoing private negotiation mediation

before retired Judge Terrence Carroll.

An LLC of five family members owned the 1.5 acres between Third and Fourth streets from Pine Avenue to the Pilchuck River. They operated Steuber’s Distributing Co. and over time bought up all the houses in the block.

Fire District 4 agreed to commission a separate, third consultant as part of mediation negotiations because of the dispute.

The two parties have accepted the third consultant’s report conclusions, Fire Chief Don Waller said last week.

The first geotech firm, Robinson Noble, now known as Terraphase, found PCE contamination requiring cleanup in some of their samples taken at the depths of between 9 and 10 feet. Robinson Noble estimated clean up could cost at least $300,000 — or at worst, $1 million.

The family that owned the block contested this. Out of their pocket, they hired their own geotech firm, The Riley Group, which looked in more places and detected PCEs at levels lower than the cleanup threshold.

Settling this dispute was key for a few reasons.

One is that the district had a holdback clause to withhold money from the final purchase price to cover some decontamination costs.

Carroll set the purchase price at $6.35 million in summer 2023. He set aside $1 million of that into escrow for the clean up costs holdback.

Data presented in GeoEngineers’ report from 16 test bore-holes showed none of the samples exceeded the cleanup threshold limits for PCEs such as tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene (both were tested for),
arsenic and petroleum hydrocarbons.

The state’s Model Toxics Control Act dictates the threshold levels for clean-up.

GeoEngineers’ test holes were done across the property, concentrated on the former site of Steuber’s Distributing Co. and directly along Cypress Avenue where a city sewer line is understood to run underneath.

GeoEngineers collected its samples in late January.

The Tribune reviewed the March 15 report by GeoEngineers after Fire District 4 gave the newspaper a copy.

The fire district took ownership of the property Nov. 1, and then sold about 60% of the block to the city.

The district plans to start building a new fire station in early 2025. The one-story Pine Avenue fire station would become Fire District 4’s headquarters. It would be in the northern part of the block toward Fourth.

Snohomish plans to use their side for a new city campus including a new City Hall, new police station and some public works functions. Total cost is estimated at $65 to $70 million. It would be in the south part toward Third.

The Snohomish City Council heard an update on future site plans and on contamination at its April 2 meeting this week after press time. 

The final contamination report is available online at this link.

Training burns are planned April 9 and 10, see story here:

Past coverage:

City of Snohomish graphic / screenshot of presentation

A preliminary rendering of the block.