Portland Says Harbor Superfund Cleanup Plan Strikes The Right Balance

Sep 7, 2016
Originally published on September 5, 2016 4:15 pm

Leaders with the city of Portland say the $746 million plan to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund Site isn't perfect, but it's good enough to move forward.

The city submitted its comments to the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, along with several requests for changes. The city is asking the agency to prioritize cleaning up certain areas that are most often used by the public and to help ensure that the benefits of the cleanup — including economic benefits — are directed to local people and businesses.

Like other entities that will likely be responsible for paying for some part of the cleanup, city leaders questioned the EPA's estimates of how much the cleanup will cost.

"Cost estimates appear to be unreasonably optimistic and significantly underestimated," they wrote.

But overall, the city says it supports moving forward with the EPA's proposal.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish says after 16 years of studying the issue, it’s time to start the cleanup.

“To put it bluntly, we want to be spending our time in the river cleaning up, not in the courtroom, fighting over Superfund," he said. "We want to get about the hard work of cleaning up the harbor, and we want a record of decision as soon as possible so we can do that.”

In their comments, city leaders said the EPA struck the right balance of controlling costs and protecting the environment. However, they asked the EPA to eliminate plans to store any of the contaminated sediment in the Willamette River as proposed.

They also want the agency to divide the 10-mile stretch of the river into smaller clean-up sites. Michael Jordan, director of the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, said that way it will be easier for the responsible parties to agree on how to clean up specific areas.

"This is one of the biggest and most complex Superfund sites in the country," he said. "If the EPA considers cleanup for the entire stretch of the river and all 140-150 potentially responsible parties need to be in some level of agreement, we think that would take a lot longer. So, we’d like to see the river broken up into operable units so we can potentially get in the river quicker."

Tuesday is the last day for the public to comment on the EPA's proposed Portland Harbor Superfund Site cleanup plan. The agency is aiming to finalize the plan by the end of the year.

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