Next step is in limbo for contaminated land

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KEIZERTIMES/File Photo

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

The site of the former Keizer Kleaners wil l likely be vacant a while longer.

As detailed in the Keizertimes two years ago, contamination clean-up has been ongoing at the former dry cleaner site at Manbrin Drive and Cherry Avenue. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) recently concluded a year’s worth of monitoring at the site, which was bought by Mancher Properties LLC from Marion County in 1984.

Bryn Thoms with DEQ said there is still some contamination at the site, but efforts by DEQ and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) got rid of much of the core problem. Instances of perchloroethylene (PCE) were first found by the city in 2002, as well as tetrachloroethene (TCE).

“One of the administrative pieces to this year’s worth of monitoring is to determine if the DEQ will do anything else at the site,” Thoms said. “We’re done at this point with the work we should be doing. That’s the way we’re leaning right now. We have to sit down with Keizer (officials). The city wants the water in that area cleaned up and ultimately the DEQ does as well.

“The concentrations of the contaminations are low enough, it’s not worth using our resources on it,” Thoms added. “I need to sit down with folks here and figure out the next step, but I don’t think we’ll be going much further.”

A complicating factor has been getting past and present land owners to pay for clean-up work.

“Normally we would have the property owner pay for all the work and do the work with our oversight,” Thoms said. “In this case, the current owner has claimed innocent victim status. We haven’t gone too far with that. We haven’t finalized the responsible party piece. We haven’t done much on that end. We couldn’t find past operators to do the work.”

Ben Bednarz, who manages properties for the family’s Mancher Properties, confirmed his dad bought the property as a vacant piece of land from Marion County in 1984. He said contamination issues were unknown to his family at the time of the purchase.

“We’ve filed paperwork for an Innocent Purchaser Defense with the EPA,” Bednarz said. “We are innocent bystanders. The general approach of government is to go after the current property owner. As far as I know, they haven’t done anything. As far as the original dry cleaner owners, we haven’t met them. The government hasn’t pursued them, as far as I know.”

Bednarz said the lot used to be bigger, but was altered when Marion County demolished the former dry cleaning facility.

Bednarz added his company has “put out substantial money” for a consultant and DEQ to do work on the property, though he declined to specify just what the amount was.

“We didn’t have any plans for the property when my dad bought it,” Bednarz said. “It’s a pretty small piece by itself. It just sits around until someone develops the whole corner. It’s about half the size of the lot that was there originally.

“The scary part is you have a huge legal impact and potential for enormous expenses that could send us to bankruptcy,” Bednarz added. “That is scary. We are a green family. I drive a hybrid and we have solar panels on our other buildings. Being connected to pollution is disappointing.”

Bill Lawyer, Keizer Public Works director, said the city used to use wells by the property until the DEQ informed the city of the contamination in 2004.

“We stopped using those wells right away,” Lawyer said. “At the time we made the detections, we started testing all city wells on a monthly basis.”

Thoms said the DEQ has spent about $300,000 to date working on the property. EPA and DEQ employees dug up some of the contaminated area and inserted soil probes.

“Around the source area, it did a good job dropping the PCE levels,” he said. “The amendment (EPA) added was helping. Removing the heart of the problem was also good. We probably reduced soil vapor in the building adjacent as well. It was really good action that took place. The plume will still be there for a while, but we hit the source hard. It won’t be a fast change. It will be several years yet.”

Bednarz doesn’t seem to be in a hurry for work to be done on the property.

“At this point we have no particular plans at all, except we hope it gets cleaned up,” Bednarz said.

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