New movement on Pine Ave. fire station-city campus plan, contamination still to be investigated further

SNOHOMISH — Officials with Fire District 4 and the city say they are still on track with a joint public safety campus which will have a future fire station and future city hall and other services in the block along Pine Avenue between Third and Fourth streets later this decade.
The land transfer has been going through mediation under a judge. A site contamination consultant will give the final say on if the site is contaminated, where and to what extent. It should complete its report in March.
An LLC of five family members owned the block. They operated Steuber’s Distributing Co. and owned the houses in the block and properties abutting the river.
Fire District 4 gave a purchase offer that contained the option to condemn under eminent domain. The offer was signed, and condemnation wasn’t invoked.
Over the summer, the mediation judge set the purchase price at $6.35 million.
The judge also determined a $1 million holdback of this price, sidelining the $1 million into escrow, to go toward paying for any potential contamination costs as needed. The $1 million holdback was capped by the judge.
There is disagreement over what contamination may be on the site.
Two prior contamination consultants concluded vastly significant differences.
The city’s consultant, Terraphase, of Woodinville, found between $300,000 to up to $1 million worth of contamination. The $1 million was the high end, city administrator Heather Thomas said.
The family paid for its own consultant, The Riley Group, of Bothell, which found less than $200,000, Thomas and Fire District 4 Chief Don Waller said.
Having a third company look was a negotiated agreement made during mediation, Thomas said.
The third consultant, GeoEngineers, of King County, will start site testing starting this month.
The city’s consultant found potential arsenic and tetrachloroethylene. Tetrachloroethylene is a dry cleaning agent and degreasing solvent.
The family could not talk with the Tribune for this story because they are prohibited while the matter is still under active mediation, a representative for the family said, only stating the family disagrees with some of what’s been said in the public record.
Waller and Thomas both said mediation concluded in December.
Even so, Thomas and Waller had to refrain from sharing certain details about what happened during mediation talks, and they said they could not disclose specific details from the two consultants’ reports during a wide-ranging interview Jan. 2.
One positive that is known is the groundwater is not contaminated. Both consulting companies said so, and while the third one, GeoEngineers, hadn’t done its tests yet as of last week, its staff looked at the existing reports and deduced the same, Waller said.
The contamination also may not require cleanup if it doesn’t go above set thresholds, Waller said.
If the groundwater in the water table was contaminated, a consultant had estimated the cleanup costs could reach $3 million.
For example, in the 2010s, tetrachloroethylene was found in groundwater at the Avenue D public works yard and required cleanup. A dry cleaner in the shopping center across the road leaked solvents which seeped into a plume that got into the groundwater under the public works yard. It required a cleanup process approved by the state Department of Ecology.

What’s next? What’s the Public Safety Campus?
Fire District 4 took ownership of the land Nov. 1. The residents living in the houses in the block, which include family members who own Steuber’s, are expected to fully vacate by Jan. 15.
Asbestos remediation and demolition is expected during the first three months of 2024, the agencies said. Waller said houses would be burned for fire exercises.
Fire District 4 plans to start building the new fire station in early 2025, and plans to enlarge its roster of firefighters after.
“With the initial information we have, we do not think (contamination will) slow construction down, but we will know that in March,” Waller said, saying nothing today is definitive.
The city plans to start building its campus buildings in 2025 or 2026.
The one-story Pine Avenue fire station would become Fire District 4’s headquarters. The city campus side would contain City Hall and the Snohomish police station in a single building sized at approximately 40,000-square-feet, as well as buildings for city vehicle and fleet maintenance located by the river, a concept map shows.
The city needs to relocate the city public works shop by April 2027 under a decision from 2009 by the city hearing examiner. The hearing examiner approved the shop building on west First Street along the river on the condition it be removed within 18 years.
Who’d pay for decontamination is outlined. The city intends to first make claims against the landowners’ insurance policies to pay for contamination costs before touching the $1 million holdback in escrow. The city hired a specialty firm that investigates whether old land insurance policies may have excluded pollution damage.
Officials do not think contamination would exceed $1 million, which would be above what the first consultant estimated.
“If worst case scenario happens and it’s 1.5 (million)” as an example, Waller said, “and if we can get five from the insurance, then it doesn’t cost us. So, the insurance first protects us. But also, if it only costs half a million and we get a half a million from the insurance, that protects the sellers because they get their whole million.”
The city agreed to buy 57% of the land for 57% of the $6.35 million price, which is $3.61 million. It has paid $1.81 million to Fire District 4 so far as of Dec. 29, public city spending records show.
The $6.35 million final price won’t change depending on what contamination is found, nor will the amount the city is paying change if any of the $1 million holdback for the sellers is spent on decontamination, Thomas said.
Last week, the City Council authorized a boundary line adjustment to remove Cypress Avenue as a city-owned right-of-way and to modify the property from multiple parcel lots into two large parcels: One for the fire district and one for the city.