IN A CASE THAT HAS BROAD IMPLICATIONS for base closure redevelopment projects, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that four Colorado builders are entitled to be reimbursed for asbestos remediation they paid for at the former Lowry Air Force Base in Denver.

Judge Lawrence M. Baskir ruled that when any branch of the military transfers property ownership at a former military base, it must pay for any costs related to contamination caused by past use.

Builders, developers, and Realtors are watching the Lowry case closely because the military plans to close 22 major bases by 2011, and many of the old sites will be used for commercial and residential development.

Contamination was first found on the Lowry site in late 2002. The area in question, known as the Northwest Neighborhood, used to be the site of a military hospital and barracks. According to the original complaint, the builders believe that when the Air Force demolished the hospital and barracks, it buried insulation, steam pipes, and building debris that contained asbestos.

“The Air Force demolished the buildings in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the standards weren't as strict, well before many of the environmental laws were passed,” says Michelle Kales, an attorney from Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck, the law firm that represented the builders.

Metropolitan Development, Richmond American Homes, Standard Pacific of Colorado, and Touchstone Homes filed the lawsuit. The group seeks to be reimbursed $9 million for the cleanup.

The exact reimbursement amount will be determined next month at a separate hearing in Washington. While the Air Force is expected to appeal the court's decision, the military can't legally file an appeal until the award is determined.

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