Type size - +
Personal tools
You are here: Home Pressroom Press Clips Final Portland Superfund plan: $1.05 billion cleanup over 13 years

Final Portland Superfund plan: $1.05 billion cleanup over 13 years

By Andrew Theen
The Oregonian

At long last, federal officials released the final plan to clean up thousands of acres of contaminated soil and toxic materials along a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River in Portland.

At long last, federal officials released the final plan to clean up thousands of acres of contaminated soil and toxic materials along a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River in Portland.

A $746 million draft plan unveiled last June prompted outcry from conservation groups and neighborhood associations that the federal government wasn't going far enough to remove dangerous materials from the river and address decades of industrial pollution.

Reaction poured in from land owners, politicians, tribal groups and conservation organizations. On Friday, environmental groups claimed partial victory and one of the major stakeholders that could be expected to shoulder cleanup costs decried the $1.05 billion price tag as "staggering."

The final cleanup plan is projected to be completed in 13 years and requires landowners to remove more hazardous soil, cap more acres of toxic river bottom shoreline and set aside less land for "monitored natural recovery," a hands-off approach that lets nature take its course that was criticized by conservationists, tribes and neighborhood groups.

The U.S., Environmental Protection Agency's "Record of Decision" nearly doubles the amount of contaminated soil that will be removed from the Willamette and represents a significant cost increase for the 150 entities that will ultimately share responsibility for dirtying the waterway over more than a century.

Who pays what share of the more than $1 billion price tag remains to be seen, and the end of the long-debated issue probably will lead to jockeying among the city, Port of Portland and affected companies of who owes what.

"We're a long way from being able to say what the costs are and what the liabilities are," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a news conference Friday.

But federal officials said the new plan will make it safer for Oregonians to eat carp, bass and shellfish from the river, and the regulatory agency projects a "100-fold reduction in contamination-related cancer and other serious risks" once the project is finished.

"This is a very big day for Portland and for the state of Oregon and for the EPA," Dennis McLerran, the EPA's Regional Administrator for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, said on a conference call with reporters. 

Richard Whitman, interim director of Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality, also praised the plan and said Gov. Kate Brown wants to spend $10 million to speed up the cleanup. "For too long now, the relationship between folks in Portland and the river have been hindered by the contamination in the lower Willamette river," he said on the call. "The decision today takes us to the next step in remedying that."

The 2,535-page EPA document lands two weeks before Donald Trump takes over the White House, and concerns about the fate of environmental regulatory projects swirl in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

McLerran said the agency wanted to finalize the cleanup plan before any administration arrived, regardless of the political party.

"We wanted to create certainty," he said of the timing. "We wanted to not have delays as an administration changes."

Reaction poured in Friday afternoon from political leaders, the environmental community and the tribal community but the positive vibes weren't universally shared.

Wheeler and Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Bureau of Environmental Services, said they were pleased with the revisions.

"The city is committed to a clean river and is prepared to lead in building coalitions and partnerships to get this cleanup done right and done as soon as possible," the politicians said in a joint statement. "This work is going to be done locally and it's our priority to have it done by local workers. The time to act is now."

The Port of Portland, which has multiple marine terminals and its Swan Island operations in the heart of the Superfund site, issued a blistering statement criticizing the EPA's plan.

The cost of cleanup could be "staggering," the agency said in a statement. 

Port officials estimated the draft plan's costs at $1.8 billion, nearly double the government estimate. The plan is only going to make cleanup more challenging, the agency said.  "We view this as a setback in the ultimate goal: the healthier, cleaner river that Portland deserves."

Sandra McDonough, president of the Portland Business Alliance, also expressed disappointment in the plan.

"At first glance this plan does not appear to achieve the balance between ensuring a healthy environment and a healthy economy that we had hoped for and may result in dragging out the cleanup process we all want to begin," she said in a statement. "Ultimately, the cost of the cleanup will be borne by all of us; a more cost-effective clean up would protect the environment as well as the family-wage jobs and small businesses that depend on the working harbor."

Rose Longoria, Superfund coordinator with the Yakama Nation's fisheries division, criticized the environmental agency for not going far enough. Despite the cleanup, state officials will likely keep issuing health warnings about consuming fish from the river, especially for young children or pregnant women.

"The Portland Harbor cleanup does not fully satisfy Yakama Nation concerns especially since it will not result in clean, healthy fish that are safe to eat," Longoria said.

But the tribal nation does expect the government to "aggressively" move forward with cleanup.

Environmental groups and other grassroots organizations can rightly claim the more aggressive cleanup plan was a result of widespread opposition.

In a four-page summary document, federal officials said the more expansive cleanup plan came in response to 5,300 public comments received last year. "The vast majority" said the initial plan didn't go far enough to address contamination.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, said the plan "certainly doesn't include" everything the community wanted. But it's a clear sign to the Wheeler administration that Portlanders care about the river.

"It demonstrates the incredible amount of advocacy that occurred in this community," he said.

Travis Williams, executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper, said the plan is a step in the right direction. "It looks like we definitely have a plan that's much stronger than what we saw last year," he said.

The final blueprint calls for dredging 248 acres of sediment from the river, roughly 3 million cubic yards of tainted materials, up from 1.2 million in the draft plan. Another 89.6 acres of soil will be capped by plastic or other material, including nearly a half-mile of river bank that will excavated then capped.

The final document also does not include a controversial proposal to store contaminated materials in the river. But it does call for disposing materials on land and implementing stricter watershed management practices to ensure contaminants on land don't reach the river.

The environmental agency's final plan comes more than 16 years after the section of the Willamette stretching roughly from the Broadway Bridge to the Columbia Slough was designated a Superfund site, a term reserved for the most contaminated areas in the nation in need of extensive cleanup.

McLerran said the agency is not pleased it took so long to complete the Superfund plan. 

"It's past time," he said, "and people have demanded that we move forward with this so it's important that we do it."

During its nearly two-decade study, the federal government identified 150 responsible parties. On the conference call Friday, federal officials said the responsible parties must work to identify separately who pays what. The agency as it's currently configured does, however, have the authority to "require people to clean up," McLerran said.

Federal and state officials briefed Wheeler and Fish on the final plan in an hour-long meeting Friday morning. The government agencies then presented the same briefing to a group of businesses in City Hall.

Friday's development was one of many this week related to the contamination issue. The port sued Monsanto in federal court, pointing blame at the agrichemical giant for contaminating the Port's properties with the now-banned toxic chemical known as PCB.

On Thursday, the city of Portland scored a huge legal victory when a judge ruled it was free to use sewer ratepayer dollars to cover projected Superfund cleanup costs.

Read the original story
Document Actions
powered by Plone | site by Groundwire Consulting and served with clean energy