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Safeway remodel will remove asbestos

Ashland’s former Safeway building on Siskiyou Boulevard is slated to reopen once again as a Safeway, following a short stint as the ill-fated Haggen, but first it must get rid of asbestos.

After an inspection by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the half-century-old store was found to have asbestos in its mastic, adhesive floor tile, insulated pipes, sheetrock joint compound and sheet vinyl flooring, said DEQ Environmental Specialist Steve Croucher.

Safeway's door is taped with warnings saying, “Danger, Asbestos. Cancer and Lung Disease Hazard. Respirators and Protective Clothing are Required in this Area.”

The store, now owned by Albertsons, is using North Star Remediation of Milwaukie for the job, which is slated to be done June 14. The hazardous fiber will be taken to a specialized asbestos disposal site at Dry Creek Landfill near White City, Croucher says.

The old Safeway was bought in a merger with Albertsons, but, in an effort to prevent monopoly, the Federal Trade Commission last year forced Albertsons to sell it and many other Safeways. It was bought by the Haggen market chain, which filed for bankruptcy last September, resulting in closure of the Ashland store and the layoff of some 75 employees. The FTC then allowed Albertsons to buy back 33 Safeway stores, including Ashland’s.

Albertsons spokeswoman Teena Massingill, in a January interview with the Daily Tidings, said the store at 585 Siskiyou Blvd. will get a major renovation, mostly on the interior, but did not mention an asbestos problem. Repeated calls to Albertsons' community relations department at corporate headquarters this week were either not returned or reached numbers that didn’t answer.

Croucher said most building owners who have asbestos “manage it in place till they get the opportunity to remove it, such as in a remodel, but if it’s there in good condition, it’s not a health risk at all. This time, between businesses, is an ideal time. There’s no law that says you have to remove it. Nothing I saw there would indicate it’s been a hazard. ... I couldn’t imagine a problem.”

The city of Ashland is not involved in the asbestos remediation at the Safeway, said Kevin Flynn, code compliance officer, because the use of the building is not being changed. “If it’s just another supermarket, it’s not a change of use,” he says.

Former Safeway and Haggen manager Sage Piersel of Ashland said the store will reopen as a Safeway and “everyone will be happy, including the workers.” Employees, she adds, were never told about any asbestos issue on site and “this is the first I’ve heard of it. It seems we should have been told.”

Piersel said her three years with the old Safeway and Haggen were fine and “we were very bonded, employees, managers, and we loved the customers. They were very concerned when we lost our jobs. Some workers were there for decades.

“It was hard to go through, seeing employees hurt and the community suffer. ... We were excited about Haggen starting, then it got less and less busy. That was hard to watch as well. We cared about each other and Ashland. ... It’s unfortunate when corporations do things for the bottom line.”

A few days before filing bankruptcy, Haggen sued Albertsons for more than $1 billion, charging “coordinated and systematic efforts to eliminate competition and Haggen as a viable competitor in over 130 local grocery markets in five states,” and “made false representations to both Haggen and the FTC about Albertsons’ commitment to a seamless transformation of the stores into viable competitors under the Haggen banner.”

While claiming the suit had no merit, Albertsons settled it on Jan. 22 for $5.75 million. All funds went to Haggen creditors.

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.