Posted by: sweeneyblog | March 19, 2014

County Considers Purchasing Toxic Property

The property in question

The property in question

Whatcom County is close to purchasing the building at 1500 N. State St., a building that is leaking toxins into our groundwater. The building, currently home to our medical examiner’s office (i.e. coroner) and morgue, is owned by Gary Goldfogel, our medical examiner. That’s right, our coroner actually owns the morgue and the county just leases it from him. Goldfogel also owns an environmental testing business that operates out of the same building called “Avocet Environmental Testing”.

However, beneath this building there is petroleum contamination leaking off site. The neighboring parking lot used to be a gas station and it is reasonable to assume some of the chemicals are left over from that business.

Back in November, Goldfogel offered to sell the property (and the neighboring parking lot at 211 E. Champion St.) to the county for $2.6 million, which is below market value. The county is considering his offer.  If this property was sold between two private citizens, most likely the bank funding the mortgage would require the environmental damage be cleaned up as part of the sale. However, since the county can buy the property outright, no such clean up would be required.

It is a morgue/environmental testing facility

It is a morgue/environmental testing facility

The Bellingham Herald covered this issue a few weeks ago but now it looks like the purchase will go forward without a plan to clean up the property. Interestingly enough, the November sales agreement (available here) states that Goldfogel has, “no actual knowledge of the release of or presence of hazardous materials.” After coverage in the Herald, it would be difficult for Goldfogel to make that claim in a more current agreement.

I spoke to Jack Louws about this issue and he said the property is currently under negotiation and he will be bringing a proposal forward for the County Council to approve in the next couple of weeks. “I know about the environmental issues and that is part of our consideration.” Beyond that, he could not speak to the specifics.

In December, the county hired Stratum Group (Dan McShane’s geological consulting firm) to conduct a “Phase II Soil, Groundwater and Indoor Air Quality Sampling Investigation Report” which is a fancy way of saying, “Check and see if there is anything I need to know about this before I buy it.” You can see the executive summary here.

The report clearly outlines the environmental hazards presented by the property. “Based on our sampling investigation, contaminated soil and groundwater is present at 1500 North State Street and contaminated soil is present at 211 E. Champion Street that exceeds the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) cleanup standard for unrestricted land use.” The report further concluded that, “petroleum may be migrating off-site” and “future excavations at the site could cause soil and groundwater contacts that would pose a risk to human health or the environment.”

While it is easy to see the potential legal hazards of assuming responsibility for a toxic property, I find it even more curious that our medical examiner owns the morgue and the county merely rents the space from him. I hope the County Council takes a good long look at this deal before signing on the dotted line.



  1. How the heck is Riley J Sweeney doing?

  2. One wonders why the County would want to buy toxic property. Who benefits from this possible sale? Seems like Gary Goldfogel does benefit. Seems like us County tax payers are the losers.

  3. I agree with Pat. This seems like a bad deal for County taxpayers. And what really galls me is that if the County does buy the property the leaking toxics probably wouldn’t be cleaned up and would continue moving toward Bellingham Bay – and Bellingham Bay is already doing pretty damn poorly.

  4. You know, they should probably test all their property for these kinds of things. The County’s Planning and Development Services office at Smith and Northwest is no picnic either. I can’t imagine what you’d find in the soil out there… I know they found a cow carcass while I was working there … who knows what else lurks below?

  5. Medical Examiner = ~$400,000 year

    Morgue & Medical Examiner Office Space (2905 sq ft total) = $4010.94 per mo.

    Health Dept (13,915 sq ft) = $19,213.81 per mo.

    TOTAL to Goldfogel et al = ~$678,697 per year

  6. Can that be possible, Harvest Rising? I’m shocked.

    • Yes, those figures are from County contracts for medical examiner services ($399k for 2013) and rental contracts for the bldg they are looking at buying.

      • I can confirm the rent numbers and am in the process of confirming the others for a followup article

  7. We are taking a good, long look at it. The Executive is not pushing this and the assumption that we would not want to clean it up is not accurate.

    • My point is that you would not be required to clean it up. Thank you for your vigilance.

  8. I came across this Feb. 2014 Whatcom Watch LWV Watching Government article
    It listed this about contracts with Gary Goldfogel:

    “241. Authorize the executive to sign a $68,658 contract (amendment #2) with Bayside Pathology/Dr. Gary Goldfogel for medical examiner (coroner) services? This amendment allows additional time to work on a new five-year contract and ends on 2/28/2014. The original contract was for $1,831,652 and approved at the 12/4/2007 meeting, vote #267, it was amended at the 12/4/2012 meeting, vote #221. Dr. Goldfogel has been the county medical examiner since 1992. The original five-year contract was for $345,000 in 2008; $355,350 in 2009; $366,011 in 2010, $376,951 in 2011 and $388,301 in 2012 and the 2013 amendment was for $399,950. Dr. Goldfogel provides all staffing, supplies, and expenses, except for office space and the morgue. This amendment brings the total contract to $2,333,589.(AB 2007-471) Approved 7-0”

    I also came across this 2003 Whatcom Watch article by LWV Council Watchers. It listed three separate County Council approved contracts; One contract was between Gary Goldfogel and Whatcom County, and two contracts between Goldfogel Family Partnership) and Whatcom County. The total amount of all three contracts together was $2,411,093.

    “138. Authorize the executive to enter into a $964,635 lease agreement with the Goldfogel Family Partnership for health department space?
    The community health and human services programs will move from their current locations on Girard Street and Forest Street to 1500 N. State Street. The move consolidates and increases space, concentrates services and reduces some clerical staff. Costs will be $13.86 per square feet for 13,915 square feet. (AB2003-280) Approved 6-0, Sam Crawford absent.

    139. Authorize the executive to enter into a $1,245,088 contract with Dr. Gary Goldfogel for medical examiner (coroner) services?
    The four-and-a-half year contract allows for an annual 3 percent cost of living increase, with Dr. Goldfogel, medical examiner since 1992, providing all staffing, supplies and other expenses except for rental space for office and morgue. (AB2003-281) Approved 6-0, Sam Crawford absent.

    140. Authorize the executive to enter into a $201,370 lease agreement with the Goldfogel Family Partnership for morgue and medical examiner (coroner) office space?
    The five-year renewable lease rate will be $13.86 per square feet per year for 2,905 square feet. The previous rate for morgue space was $43.70. Declining rents in the city account for the decreased lease rate. (AB2003-279) Approved 6-0, Sam Crawford absent.”

  9. […] manner – McShane shorts for everyone! I still have a couple of big articles in the queue: a follow-up about Gary Goldfogel, a follow-up on Vincent Buys PDC complaint and the last legislative update post. But for now, […]

  10. […] I promised an update on the Goldfogel story but that will have to wait till next week. In the meantime, please take my readers survey and […]

  11. […] Mentions: The county tried to buy a toxic morgue from its own coroner, a move that is almost as incestuous as it is environmentally troubling and the County Planning […]

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