A downtown Olympia business has filed a lawsuit against the city, the state Department of Transportation, and the Low Income Housing Institute to determine who’s responsible for cleaning up a pair of contaminated properties.
The lawsuit alleges that pollution from the property at 318 State Ave. NE has spread to two parcels to the north that are owned by Acme Fuel Co.
The Acme-owned parcels include warehouses at 218 Franklin St. NE and 227 Adams St. NE. Acme co-owner Christophe Allen wants the city and Department of Transportation to take responsibility for the contamination caused by the site at 318 State Ave., which at one time was owned by those government entities.
“We’re hoping to get some resolution down the road,” Allen told The Olympian. He added that the lawsuit is intended to recoup attorney fees and cleanup costs.
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City attorney Mark Barber said the parties in the lawsuit are trying to schedule a mediation for early October. A date has not been set yet.
“The city denies any responsibility for contamination at 318 State Ave. NE and any resulting contamination on the plaintiff’s properties,” Barber told The Olympian in an email.
In 2008, the city bought the property at 318 State Ave. from the state Department of Transportation for about $1.28 million. As a condition of that sale, WSDOT agreed to use the proceeds to clean up the site, according to records.
The state had owned the site since 1923. A chemical testing laboratory and various machine shops occupied the property over the years. The soil and groundwater were polluted with chemicals such as lead, arsenic, vinyl chloride and an industrial solvent called trichloroethene, according to documents.
Cleanup began in 2009 under the city’s direction, and about 6,500 tons of contaminated soil was removed from the southeast side of the property. Other remedial actions include removal of “residual soil vapor” through the course of natural attenuation, a long-term method that relies on natural processes to reduce the remaining contaminants.
In February, the Department of Ecology notified the city that “no further remedial action is necessary” to clean up contamination on the State Avenue property.
The groundwater beneath the property remains contaminated. In addition, a 2010 report by GeoEngineers Inc. noted that the groundwater on the State Avenue property flows to the northeast and the northwest where the Acme sites are located.
In 2015, the city sold the southeast corner of 318 State Ave. NE to the Low Income Housing Institute, which is building a 43-unit apartment building on the site. The institute received full indemnity — which is a legal exemption — for the site’s environmental hazards.
Acme’s owners had sought indemnity when trying to refinance their adjacent property in 2014, but the city denied the request.
“That really irked us,” said Allen, commenting on the fairness of LIHI’s indemnity. “We’ve been here 91 years. We’re a very small company, but we’ve been here a long time.”