Photo by Andrew Jackson/KEIZERTIMES

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Cleanup on a chemically-contaminated site at the southwest corner of Manbrin Drive and Cherry Avenue begins next week, supervised by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The problem, officials believe, stems from a dry cleaner that was located there from the 1960s until 1984. [MAP: 1]

City officials discovered in 2002 instances of PCE (perchloroethylene), a cleaner commonly used in dry cleaning in three shallow (defined as 100-150 feet) city wells. Two were permanently decommissioned, and another – at Willamette Manor Park – was closed, rebuilt and re-opened with a deeper well.

Kissler said that even when the discovery was made the detection level was below federal mandate; however, the city chose to stop using those wells.

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality concluded the chemical was likely flowing westward toward the river, using drilling as well as samples from private, non-municipal wells on private properties. Of those, according to DEQ records, PCE or tetrachloroethene, a related chemical, showed up in 34 of 44 residential wells.

Owners were offered the choice to become city water customers as opposed to remaining on their private well, according to DEQ and city officials. Most accepted.

According to the state’s Environmental Cleanup Site Information (ECSI) database, DEQ officials were able in 2008 to say the Manbrin-Cherry site showed the highest concentration levels of PCE.

“At that point, we pretty much … said we had the smoking gun,” said Bryn Thoms, a DEQ project manager. “That’s when we went to the property owner and tagged them with responsibility.”

Current property owner is Mancher Properties, LLC. County records indicate the property was purchased in 1984.

According to Thoms, a consultant paid by Mancher Properties, LLC discovered “extremely high” levels of PCE directly under where the dry cleaning building was located.

Thoms said current and former property owners – as well as anyone who operated a facility on the property – are responsible for clean-up per Oregon law. The department is working to track down previous owners and users, some of whom are believed to be deceased.

Thoms confirmed Mancher Properties, LLC had been sent a “demand letter for repayment” of about $100,000.

The firm’s attorney has denied responsibility, Thoms said.

“We’re looking for other potentially responsible parties,” Thoms added. “We’re still looking at the current owners.”

Ben Bednarz, who owns Mancher Properties LLC, said the property had been purchased by his father, who has since died. Marion County property records show it was sold to Mancher in 1984, after Marion County took part of the property via eminent domain to widen Manbrin Drive and Cherry Avenue.

“We’ve spent, already, a couple hundred thousand dollars trying to deal with this,” Bednarz said. “… We’re an innocent party that purchased a piece of land someone messed up. We don’t have any more money to spend on it.”

He hopes the EPA and DEQ do more to seek out the dry cleaner’s owners or estate, noting the building was already demolished once his firm bought it.

He also questioned whether Marion County had done due diligence in removing pipes and other leftovers from the dry cleaners when it bought land to expand the two streets.

“I find it very strange that EPA and DEQ have only focused on this patch of land and haven’t looked for pollutants under Manbrin or Cherry,” he said. “My family, I would say, is aggressively green. We drive hybrid cars. We just put solar panels on four of our buildings. So this is very disturbing to us.”

The cleanup is being led by the EPA and Dan Heister, a federal on-scene coordinator. Cyclone fencing with tarps will be placed around the site, and passersby should expect to see “a large excavator, a front-loader … and it will look like we’re installing utilities. … Some people may be wearing respirators, but probably not.”

Heister said DEQ had identified a tear-shaped plume about a mile long going west from the site.

“This property is the top of the teardrop,” he said. It’s believed the particularly contaminated area is about 18 feet below the ground surface, sitting on top of a layer of clay below the topsoil.

“We get a lot of rain in the Willamette Valley, and what we believe is happening … when the water table gets high enough to get to that 18-foot level, it’s able to grab some of that contaminanation and continue to feed the plume,” Heister said. “… We’re going to apply soil amendments – an iron substance that naturally oxidizes the (PCE), put it down there at that interface level, and then fill the hole with clean soil.”

He said they plan to excavate a ditch about 18-20 feet deep, 10 feet wide and 20 feet long. It’s hoped the removal process will conclude by the end of the month.