Lake and Lathrop parties in settlement talks
River Forest Cleaners, 7615 Lake Street | William Dwyer ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 1:16AM
RIVER FOREST — A nearly four-year legal battle over environmental contamination under commercial and residential properties around Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue in River Forest may be nearing the end.
Lawyers for Edward Ditchfield and Forest Park National Bank have been in settlement discussions since August.
Ditchfield owns several contaminated properties on the 7600 block of Lake Street. Thomas Yu, one of Ditchfield’s attorneys, would not comment last week on the settlement talks.
“Those discussions are confidential,” Yu said.
A formal settlement conference has been scheduled for Jan. 30.
Forest Park National sued Ditchfield in May 2010, seeking damages of at least $200,000 for a property it foreclosed on at 423 Ashland, just around the corner from the Ditchfield properties along Lake Street.
The bank contends it has been unable to sell the Ashland property since 2009, due to environmental contamination from a dry cleaner Ditchfield owned and operated at 7615 Lake St. between 1978 and 2002.
Ditchfield said in a court deposition the site has hosted a dry cleaner since 1928; his source for that assertion was “people who have lived in the town.”
But in a July opinion, federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer found there was no evidence of a dry cleaner on the 7613-15 Lake Street property prior to Edward and Helen Ditchfield opening a dry cleaners there in 1978.
Forest Park National offered evidence showing prior property owners “include a milk company, a grocery store, a radio business and a roofing business – but not a dry cleaning business,” Pallmeyer wrote.
Pallmeyer granted Forest Park National’s motion for summary judgment for its claim under the Comprehensive and Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act – commonly known as Superfund.
Pallmeyer also found that Ditchfield is “probably liable” for environmental contamination to the 423 Ashland Ave. property under the federal law.
“Common sense dictates that the contamination would deter potential buyers of the residential property” Pallmeyer wrote.
That contamination stems from perchloroethylene, also known as “perc,” a chemical commonly used in dry cleaning.
A 2001 Illinois EPA investigation of the dry cleaner site and adjacent areas found a plume of chemically contaminated soil “roughly 270 feet long, 90 feet wide and 10 feet deep.”
A follow-up investigation in November 2009 found far higher levels of perc, up to 14,000 parts per million, under the dry cleaners, just a few feet from the rear of the 423 Ashland property.
Two remaining counts in the Forest Park National suit are covered under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Referring to those counts, Pallmeyer ruled the bank had provided “sufficient evidence that it may suffer future harm should the perc plume beneath (the cleaners) continue to spread onto its property.”
Pallmeyer noted Ditchfield himself told federal Environmental Protection Agency officials that “due to the real or inflated environmental stigma associated with (perc) contamination, he faced the prospect of losing tenants at his commercial properties.”