A company that intended to develop a property in Winston has filed a complaint against an environmental specialist who allegedly failed to determine that the site had formerly housed a gas station and was polluted.
Winston Core Project LLC filed the complaint against environmental health specialist Ronald E. Baker and his Roseburg company, Baker Environmental Services, L.L.C., in Douglas County Circuit Court on Feb. 21.
Winston Core Project is seeking more than $200,000 in damages.
According to the complaint:
In 2016, Winston Core hired Baker to perform environmental assessments on several properties in Winston, including a lot at 40 SE Main St.
Baker performed the assessment, and said the lot had no underground storage tanks. But when Winston Core began developing the property in late 2021, the company discovered two underground storage tanks, each containing about 300 gallons of oil, which were surrounded by contaminated soil, the complaint said.
In March of 2022, Winston Core discovered two more underground storage tanks, measuring 7.5 feet in diameter and 32 feet in length, which contained 8,000 and 10,000 gallons of contaminated liquids, respectively. The tanks were surrounded by roughly 100 cubic yards of petroleum contaminated soil, according to the complaint.
As a result of the discovery of the underground storage tanks and contaminated soil, Winston Core was required to clean up the property by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Baker Environmental Services not only got the soil test wrong, it also failed to investigate the historical use of the property, which would have found uses “likely to create a risk of contamination,” the complaint said.
Information for a historical investigation of the property was readily available from the City of Winston records and Douglas County records. Because it did not do the research, Baker Environmental failed to notify Winston Core that the property had been used as a gas station, the complaint said.
“Plaintiffs were required to incur substantial expenses for removal of the underground storage tanks, disposal of the contaminated soils, costs for excavation equipment, trucking equipment rentals, and other expenses relating to remediation of the contaminated soil at these locations,” the complaint said.
Winston Core spent a total of $190,667 cleaning up the property, and incurred loss of use of the property that cost the company another $36,327. The company also said it paid $5,750 for the “incorrectly performed” site assessment.
“Defendants owed a duty to competently perform the Phase I Environmental Assessment and discover the prior use of the Property as a service station, which would have disclosed a high likelihood of environmental hazards on the Property, which would have required further investigation before Plaintiff purchased the Property,” the complaint said. “Defendants’ failure to perform their respective duties created a foreseeable risk that Plaintiff, as purchaser of the Property, would suffer a substantial harm due to underground environmental conditions.”
For alleged damages suffered due to the actions of Baker, Winston Core is seeking $231,744, plus interest at the rate of 9% per year.
Winston Core is represented by Roseburg attorney Dan G. McKinney. He did not respond Tuesday to an email seeking comment. Baker Environmental Services could not be reached for comment. The company has not yet responded to the complaint and no attorney for the company is listed in court records.
If this article is correct, the main force of the suit revolves around one business not finding something hidden, specifically "...allegedly failed to determine that the site had formerly housed a gas station and was polluted."
I certainly don't know enough to form any sort of legal opinion, but I'll give you one point to ponder: If you own a piece of property, you own all the liability. I don't know if the property was purchased prior to examination, or if the purchase was made after. Nor do we know from this article if the work performed was as stipulated by contract and the plaintiff basically got what he ordered and paid for, or if work was skipped and/or otherwise negligent.
Nor do we know if the new property owner had any prior knowledge that a gas station had been there previously, but from my experience it would be very unbelievable to hear that the new owner was ignorant of that fact. If -- IF the new property owner figured he could get his clean-up paid for by suing his engineering consultant (basically kicking the expense back to an insurance payer), then that would simply be a despicable action.
The article actually states that the inspection was done prior to purchase. Had the inspector done their due diligence, the information would have been recorded and the purchaser would have been able to decide if the clean-up costs were within their budget for development.
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