A contractor working to transform a historic hardware store into a community grocery co-op dumped water contaminated with latex paint into a storm drain Thursday, according to an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality official.

A contractor working to transform a historic hardware store into a community grocery co-op dumped water contaminated with latex paint into a storm drain Thursday, according to an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality official.

The drains empty directly into Bear Creek, so city crews immediately started an emergency cleanup after the spill was discovered around 11 a.m. Thursday. City officials warned people to steer clear of Riverside Avenue, between Main and Fourth streets, for a few hours around midday while the cleanup was under way.

An employee of Simpson & Associates Inc. had dumped about 20 gallons of water that had been used to rinse painting tools down a storm drain in Middleford Alley, said Mike Renz, an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality state on-scene coordinator.

The company is a subcontractor on a façade-improvement project at the old Hubbard Ace Hardware store. The building's owners, Bob Seus and his siblings, are renovating the exterior of the building, with assistance from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency's façade improvement program. The Medford Market, a fledging food co-op, is leasing the building and hopes to open there in the fall.

Bob Seus was surprised to learn of the dumping.

"Obviously we wouldn't want that to happen," he said.

Brice Perkins, Medford Public Works operations superintendent, said city crews vacuumed out the catch basin and cleaned as much of the drainpipe as equipment could reach. First Strike Environmental also was called to help with the cleanup, he said.

The water-soluble paint that reached Bear Creek couldn't be contained or cleaned up because it dispersed throughout the water, Renz said. However, "a very small area" was affected and the spill had "a limited impact," he said.

Medford police cited Simpson & Associates on a charge of putting pollutants into a storm drain, Renz said.

State rules require whoever is responsible for a spill to clean it up, so the city will send Simpson & Associates a bill for the time it took city crews to clean the drains, Perkins said. He said a cost estimate might not be prepared for weeks.

Representatives of Simpson & Associates weren't available for comment Thursday afternoon.

The building being renovated formerly housed the state's oldest hardware store. Hubbard's, which opened in Jacksonville in 1884, moved to the downtown corner in 1898 and its owners built the current building in 1906. Hubbard's Ace Hardware closed that location in 2006, but still has two stores in the Rogue Valley.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485 or aburke@mailtribune.com