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Tuesday, April 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

State Places Davenport On Pollution List Department Of Ecology Says Oil Underneath Hotel Is A Possible Health Hazard

Spokane’s “crown jewel” hotel shows up on the state’s list of potentially polluted sites.

The state Department of Ecology calls oil beneath the Davenport Hotel a possible hazard to public health or the environment.

Regulators also see the hotel oil, found last summer, as unrelated to Washington Water Power Co.’s underground oil spill near the downtown property.

“We’re treating them as completely separate and isolated incidents,” said Dave George of the Ecology Department.

Jeffrey Wai Kwong Ng, executive director of the hotel, said Thursday the Davenport contamination is minor and easily resolved.

The Davenport now is one of about 90 places in Spokane County on a list of known or suspected contaminated sites.

The hotel was the ornate centerpiece of Spokane for several decades in the middle of the century, but the landmark deteriorated. It hasn’t offered lodging for 10 years.

Renovation plans have repeatedly collapsed due to financing problems. The current Hong Kong-based owners have done enough repairs to open the hotel for weekend functions.

Ng said the state listing does not hurt the hotel’s financing efforts to finish the renovation, but said the WWP spill still might. “It doesn’t bother me,” he said of the state’s designation. “If this bothers us the whole city should be worried about (the WWP) spill.”

George said more tests are needed before the state would consider branding the hotel property a hazardous site. The small amount of oil in the soil and ground water beneath the hotel is not an immediate threat to public health or the environment, he said.

The oil was discovered last July by a drilling crew hired by the Davenport’s Hong Kong owner, Ronald Wai Choi Ng.

Ng released the information at a dramatic news conference during the heat of the WWP oil spill controversy. Ng called the Davenport’s finding a “startling revelation” that demanded further investigation.

He said at the time that early analysis indicated the oil was similar to the thick Bunker C oil that had leaked from WWP’s defunct steam plant. He also said the finding jeopardized the hotel renovation.

Officials with Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities, which owns the block of buildings west of the Davenport, also reported finding unidentified oil in a building sump during the same time frame.

The Metropolitan Mortgage oil never was conclusively connected to the WWP spill. State regulators now suspect petroleum found beneath the Davenport came from the hotel’s 4,000-gallon fuel tanks, hydraulic fluids used in the elevators, or other hotel sources.

The state expects to hear more details about WWP’s spill investigation next month, said Guy Gregory, of the Ecology Department.

Rob Strenge, a WWP spokesman, said the utility hopes to show the state a variety of oil cleanup or containment options by no later than August.

The WWP spill was discovered 13 years ago, but the size of the underground plume was vastly underestimated. Last year, drilling showed the oil had moved at least 400 feet north, across First Avenue from the Davenport.

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