There’s something strange about the charred debris that floated out of the vacant Kmart on Northeast Sandy Boulevard when it caught fire last week.
The building went up in flames on Wednesday, July 19. A day later, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality put out a press release saying: “Debris at Luuwit View Park has already been tested and identified as containing asbestos.”
But, Prologis, the San Francisco company that has a lease on the property and plans to build a freight warehouse there, says it tested the site for asbestos last year, found some, and removed it.
“We conducted an asbestos assessment last March, which disclosed existence of asbestos,” Prologis spokeswoman Mattie Sorrentino said in an email Friday. “After entering into the ground lease, we promptly undertook and completed asbestos abatement at the building and received confirmation in September 2022.”
Asked if “abatement” meant removal, Sorrentino wrote: “We abated (removed) the asbestos from the building and received the closeout report in September 2022.”
Responding to a resident’s question about the matter yesterday, DEQ employee Audrey O’Brien said in an email: “Prologis did have a survey and conducted asbestos abatement about 10 months ago at the former Kmart building. However, after the fire, Portland Parks & Recreation identified asbestos in a sample of the debris collected at Luuwit View Park.”
Black chunks of insulation the size of dinner plates landed in nearby apartment complexes, parks and school grounds after the fire.
A group of federal and state agencies continued cleaning up debris yesterday. Luuwit View Park and Thompson Park have reopened, DEQ said on a website it set up for information about the fire. Knott City Park and John Luby City Park, both a mile south of the Kmart, remain closed.
The agencies plan to hold a meeting with community members today at 2 pm at the Parkrose School District Office at 10636 NE Prescott St. to discuss their response to the fire. They plan to distribute masks, gloves and trash bags.
The Zoom link for the meeting is: ordeq.org/kmartfire-meeting.
The empty Kmart is owned by RFC Joint Venture, a limited liability company controlled by Zygmunt Wilf, a New Jersey real estate developer who also owns the Minnesota Vikings football team. Wilf’s company has leased the land to Prologis to build the freight warehouse. Argay Terrace residents have been fighting the plan, saying that the warehouse would bring more diesel-spewing trucks into a neighborhood that’s already plagued by them.
The vast, 13-acre site has been decaying since 2018, when the Kmart closed. In 2021, it was the site of a brawl between anti-fascists and far-right Proud Boys, fought with paintball guns and baseball bats. (One of the participants in that fight, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, was handed a 95-month sentence last week.)
Regulators have approved a demolition permit for the building, but Prologis is waiting for its building permit to be approved before pulling it down, Sorrentino, the Prologis spokeswoman, said in an email.