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Styrofoam invades downtown

It's not snowing in May ' it's a unique form of downtown pollution.

A portion of downtown received a light dusting of Styrofoam this week from the Cuthbert Building construction site at Sixth Street and Central Avenue in Medford. The construction crew was told by the Department of Environmental Quality on Tuesday to contain and clean up the mess. A city code enforcement officer handed out a &

36;250 fine Wednesday for littering.

Owner Reid Murphy, whose R.A. Murphy Construction company is renovating the 1910 building, said crews already are containing and cleaning the debris produced from sanding the plastic foam insulation.

It's all taken care of, he said.

Sue Mapolski, an employee at Raven Maps and Images on Central Avenue, said for the past several days, downtown streets have been littered with tiny pieces of the plastic foam.

— You could look out the window and it was kind of like a little snowstorm going by, said Mapolski.

She's noticed gutters and planters three blocks down from the site lined with the fluffy stuff, so her colleagues asked DEQ what the regulations are.

This is the Cuthbert building project's second air-quality complaint, both of which have been resolved, according to Anna Kemmerer, natural resource specialist with the DEQ.

Several weeks ago, she asked Murphy to contain dust generated during demolition, which they did, she said. The plastic foam isn't considered a health issue.

It doesn't really fall under any of our air-quality rules, said Kemmerer. Environmentally, this is not a huge deal. It's a nuisance.

City code enforcement officer Joe Jimenez agrees.

Tomorrow, if the situation isn't abated, I'll give them another citation, he said, adding. I don't want to issue citations; I want it cleaned up.

He said he didn't want the plastic foam getting into storm drains.

If we get a rain, it may possibly wash into Bear Creek, he said.

Jon Gasik, a DEQ water-quality engineer, said as far as he knows, none of the plastic foam has made it into Bear Creek, so it's not a water-quality issue yet.

Mapolski said her only concern is Bear Creek's wildlife.

Rosemary Stussy, ODFW wildlife biologist, said fish will avoid it but ducks and other birds might eat a little, but it would be harmless. It's possible but not probable that a bird would eat a lot and die of starvation thinking it had a full stomach.

She said it's more of a littering issue.

It's not biodegradable. It's just always going to be there, she said.

Murphy said there's still a few more weeks of sanding the plastic foam in preparation for the stucco surface, and crews are trying to contain it and clean it as they go along.

He said the exterior of the building should be complete by the end of summer. With the streetscape project on Central Avenue, which the Medford Urban Renewal Agency began a couple weeks ago near Fifth Street, that portion of Central will have a whole new look.

Murphy expects the complaints have come only because it's a high-profile project.

When you're right on Central, what do you expect? he said.

But not all downtown business owners have been bothered by the snow-like stuff.

I thought it was from, like, a cottonwood tree, said Denis Poletto, who owns Sonny's Downtown Cafe on Vogel Plaza.

We had 300 customers out there last night and it wasn't a problem, he said, adding he hasn't heard any complaints.

Phil Cam, owner of Pacific Diamond Jewelers, just two doors down from the construction site, said he keeps it in perspective.

A little Styrofoam blowing around is a small price to pay for what that project brings to downtown, he said, adding that he's so excited about what that new building will look like he'll offer to help clean up the mess.

There may be some debris to be vacuumed and there may be some traffic inconveniences, but Medford will be losing an eyesore and gaining a beautiful building, he said.

In this particular case, the glass is more than half full, he said.

Areas of downtown Medford have a light coating of plastic foam pellets from the renovation of the Cuthbert Building at Sixth Street and Central Avenue, where the scaffolding can be seen in the top center of this photo. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli