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Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment sent Mayor Kulmann a letter Dec. 2 making it clear that the city is not exempt from lawsuits regarding the Thornton Shopping Center. 

“Unfortunately, CDPHE cannot offer the City of Thornton a covenant not to sue under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act/Colorado Hazardous Waste Act,” the letter states. 

Kulmann asked for a pass from the State because the city wants to move the process along and begin redeveloping the area. 

The property has two major problems. First is the contamination of the soil and groundwater with perchloroethylene (PERC), a dry-cleaning chemical, of which the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment enforces the remediation. The second set of issues is structural and aesthetic ones with buildings, parking lots and sidewalks, which the city enforces through issuing municipal code violations.

Jay Brown purchased the property without knowledge of the environmental problems and he claims to lack the funds needed to clean up the mess. Even with a court order directing Brown and his company to clean up the site, a stalemate remains. 

Mayor Kulmann thinks Brown’s claims are false. 

“He claims he has no money, but yet he has a lot of money to hire lawyers to prevent him from having to comply with state regulations,” she said. 

Kulmann explained the situation to the Department of Public Health and Environment and that the city would buy the property.

“Thornton would spend up to $7 million in public funds to complete source contamination cleanup,” she said in a letter to the department. 

Kulmann thinks the council can overcome the issue.

“I think the letter is just one more thing that we’re working through in order to actually solve the problem with the shopping center,” she said. 

City Councilor Kathryn Henson noted how the current state of the property brings down property values in the area. She thinks Brown should be responsible for cleaning the site, and notes how the situation will affect taxpayers. 

“Unfortunately, when you have a landlord like a slumlord, like Jerry Brown, cities end up sometimes picking up the slack,” she said. 

Henson also believes this is an equity issue. She thinks the southern part of the city receives less attention than the north, and points to some numbers. 

“These are hard numbers that we have fewer parks, fewer green spaces,” she said. “In Ward one alone, we have twice as many people living per square mile, and we have half as many playgrounds for our kids as they have in other words in the city.” 

To move forward, the council sees eminent domain as a course of action, which would give the property to the government with compensation. 

An executive session on Dec. 7 occurred and council members reportedly talked about the issue.