City ordered to pay for most of Shoppers Forum mall chemical cleanup

Sam Friedman, [email protected]

Jul 27, 2017

FAIRBANKS — The Fairbanks city government must pay more than half the bill for cleaning up toxic dry cleaning chemicals at the Shoppers Forum Mall, a federal judge has ruled. 

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason issued the order Tuesday in the dispute between the city and Shoppers Forum owner Gavora Inc. She ruled the city must pay 55 percent of remediation costs, with Gavora paying the remaining 45 percent. 

The percentages apply to future costs and the $174,000 that Gavora has spent cleaning up the property. 

Shoppers Forum is a small enclosed mall and shopping center at the intersection of Airport Way and Lathrop Street. Gavora acquired the lease for the property in 1976 and bought the property from the city in 2002. 

The land was found to have toxic chemicals tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, most of which likely came from a dry cleaning business in an annex building, according to Gleason’s ruling. 

Gavora had wanted the city to pay 66 percent of the cleanup costs, while the city asserted its responsibility was “far less,” according to Gleason’s summary of the case. A four-day bench trial was held in May at the federal building in Fairbanks. 

Although neither the city nor Gavora contaminated the property directly, they bore responsibility for the cleanup under, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980. The original contaminators aren’t parties to the case and are “unknown, insolvent, defunct or dead,” Gleason said.   

Gleason said she arrived at the percentages after considering factors such as when the parties were aware of the contamination, actions they took to clean it up, and who will benefit from the expense of cleaning up the property. 

The judge faulted the city for not telling Gavora about the contamination in 1999, when the city learned about contamination across Airport Way from Shoppers Forum at Fairview Manor. Monitoring wells dug at the Fairview Manor property, which now holds the Raven Landing senior housing and community center, showed the contamination flowed onto the property through groundwater from the direction of Shoppers Forum, Gleason said. 

“The city learned, or should have learned, of the contamination no later than 1999, yet failed to inform Gavora or others of that fact either at that time, or at the time of the sale to Gavora in 2002,” Gleason wrote.

Gleason faulted Gavora for buying the property without testing it for environmental contamination.

Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.

Clarification: This article has been changed to reflect the following clarification.

Thursday’s article “City ordered to pay for most of Gavora mall chemical cleanup” had a confusing headline. The property at issue in the lawsuit is the Shoppers Forum Mall, which is owned by Gavora Inc. Gavora also owns another mall, Gavora Mall on 3rd Street, which was not an issue in this lawsuit.

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