The gigantic hole that has plagued an organic market and deli in the downtown White Salmon area will be filled while litigation continues between former and current property owners regarding soil contamination.
November marks a little more than a year since excavation began around the property that contains Feast Market and Delicatessen at 320 E. Jewett Blvd. The purpose of the construction was to remove tanks and equipment still in place from when the property served as a gas station and auto repair shop.
Howard Kreps, who has owned the property since 2007, began the process more than a year ago by working with the Washington Department of Ecology and removing a 12,000-gallon gas tank that was under the parking lot on the west end of the property. According to Kreps it was when he reached the east end of the property that he ran into problems.
When Kreps dug into the side of the property that used to house gas pumps, testing revealed oil and petroleum contamination, as well as two small tanks previously used to hold oil, according to an article in the June 4 edition of The Enterprise. Kreps deferred all comments regarding the hole on his property to his attorney, Brooks Foster, for this article.
The following months would prove to be frustrating as Kreps attempted to address the soil contamination by tracking down the previous owners of the property and asking them to mitigate the problem, only to be caught up in an ongoing lawsuit alleging that he should not be responsible for the costs incurred thus far or further costs regarding cleanup.
Other than the City of White Salmon constructing a fence around the hole in June, the project remained untouched and stagnant for the next 11 months until Kreps was recently sent a notice of violation from the city calling the hole a nuisance and danger to the public.
The Sept. 29 notice of violation originally requested that Kreps fill in the hole by Oct. 29, but that was too short notice for the contractor he uses, Artistic Excavation, to act on it, so the date has been pushed to Nov. 30, according to a memo sent to the city by Foster. It is expected that the hole will be filled by Nov. 21.
According to Foster, despite willingness to cooperate and fill in the hole as directed by the city, Kreps doesn’t agree that it is any different from any other ongoing construction project.
“Mr. Kreps denies that the excavation is a nuisance or endangerment to anyone; he denies the excavation is unlawful; and he denies that he has any duty to fill the excavation within the timeframe you requested. The excavation is surrounded by security fencing, which protects public health and safety and hides the excavation from view,” Foster wrote to the city.
Though the hole will be filled in, the contamination will not be removed until the pending lawsuit comes to a conclusion, meaning eventually it will have to be dug again.
Janessa VanDeHey, co-owner of Feast, said that while she and her husband are relieved the hole will be filled in, she would like to see a permanent solution to the problem.
“We’re definitely happy something is happening. I think it will look a lot better without the fence and the hole, especially since it’s started collecting water, but we’d be happier if it were permanent because they’re just going to have to redig it,” VanDeHey said.
The lawsuit, Kreps v. Nelson, was filed in Klickitat County Superior Court on Aug. 4 and is ongoing. It names John Nelson, Max Logan, and Panelog, a partnership, as the defendants.
According to the complaint, Kreps is seeking reimbursement under the Model Toxics Control Act for all costs he has incurred so far regarding the cleanup up of the property and that Nelson and Logan be liable for the remainder of the cleanup.
The lawsuit states that Kreps has incurred at least $108,606 in costs so far while investigating and attempting to address the contamination he alleges was left by Panelog, the company in which Nelson and Logan are listed as partners.
According to the facts listed in the lawsuit, Panelog purchased the property in 1981 when it was being used as an auto repair shop, but that it was then converted to a convenience store and deli.
“During the course of the work, Panelog failed to remove or decommission two waste oil tanks associated with the former auto repair shop. Panelog continued to operate the gas station on the property,” the complaint alleges.
It goes on to say that in 1992, Panelog hired a contractor to replace the old fueling system and remove contaminated soil and reported to the Washington Department of Environmental Quality in 1993 that it had done so, but the complaint alleges that Panelog “left in place significant amounts of petroleum contamination in the soil at the property in concentrations exceeding cleanup levels established by Ecology.”
On Sept. 11, Jim Kacena, who is the attorney representing Nelson and Logan, filed an answer to the complaint essentially denying all claims alleged.
Kacena said his clients do not agree with the assertion that they are responsible for the petroleum contamination to begin with and therefore should not be held responsible for the costs already associated with the cleanup or the costs that will build up from the rest of the excavation.
“A lot of people owned that property at different times and they’re saying that my clients are totally responsible for the contamination there and we don’t agree with that. A lot of parties could be potentially responsible for that contamination that was there and that includes the Kreps because they operated it as a gas station as well,” Kacena said.
In the meantime, VanDeHey and her husband would like to eventually purchase the property from Kreps, but are unable to do so until the issues with the contamination are cleared up.
“We’re most looking forward to when it’s done so we can landscape and pave it and get our parking lot back, get our business back to normal, and eventually buy it,” she said.