Four Oregon lawmakers came together Wednesday to say they’ll renew a fight to clean up Portland’s harbor on the Willamette River.
U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, joined Congressmen Kurt Schrader, and Earl Blumenauer on a tugboat tour of the Portland Harbor. The harbor is home to Oregon’s worst pollution.
Decades of defense projects, ship-building, and ship-breaking have left the waterfront layered with fuel, heavy metals, and other toxic sediments. It’s listed as a Superfund site, but Congressman Blumenauer notes the Superfund lost its revenue stream back in 1995.
“There are hundreds of businesses that contributed to the pollution that are gone. It raises the costs for everybody else and makes it more complex,” Blumenauer said.
Blumenauer’s been working on reviving the Superfund tax. At the same time, the lawmakers say they’ll pursue a mosaic of funding options.
One possibility might be the Defense Department, since so much military and military contracting work was done in the harbor around the turn of the 20th Century. The group members say they recognize the federal government is under tremendous pressure to cut costs.
The Portland Harbor issue is not new. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed the harbor on its Superfund National Priorities List in 2000 and began looking for “potentially responsible parties” — those who may have caused the pollution.
Those parties include the city of Portland, Port of Portland, NW Natural, Chevron U.S.A, Inc., Arkema Inc., and several other companies. Together they began studying the river to determine the health risks the river’s pollution carries for people and the fish and wildlife.
“Basically, it shows the greatest risk is from fish consumption,” says the EPA’s Chip Humphrey.
It’s taken more than 10 years to come close to completing this part of the work. The assessment should be wrapped up by the end of the year, Humphrey says.
Next, the stakeholders will develop a remediation program. A couple of years after that, major cleanups could begin if funding issues can be settled.
Over the past few years, a few harbor areas have had some pollutants removed or contained:
A partial cleanup at Port of Portland’s Terminal 4 removed 12,800 cubic yards of sediment from one slip, and 850 feet of Wheeler Bay was stabilized and capped to control contamination sources that could enter the river.
Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality demolished buildings and cleaned up copper, chromium, zinc and arsenic from what once was the McCormick and Baxter Creosoting Company property, a site within the harbor that originally made the Superfund list in 1994.
NW Natural paid to remove 15,000 cubic yards or 500 truckloads of highly contaminated tar from the river bottom in 2005. The site formerly was home to Gasco, the Portland Gas and Coke Company, which operated an oil gasification plant.
Most areas within the Portland Harbor Superfund site have not had the benefit of early cleanup efforts since the 2000 listing. Much of what happens in the coming years to restore the river will depend upon how much money the responsible parties provide and whether members of Oregon’s congressional delegation are able to pry loose more federal dollars.
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