Your City Hall: City, state, EPA may join forces to clean up harbor toxins
WHAT IS HAPPENING? The City Council will consider entering into a unique agreement with the state of Oregon and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to speed the cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund site.
The council will hold a Wednesday, May 15, hearing on an ordinance to approve a city and state settlement agreement that would create a $24 million trust fund to be administered by the EPA.
The city and state would each contribute $12 million to the fund. The money would be available to the more than 150 parties the EPA has identified as potentially liable for cleanup costs estimated at around $1 billion total. It would be available at $80,000 per qualifying acre to develop remedial plans for cleaning up the pollution.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT? The city, state and EPA have long known a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River north of the Broadway Bridge is polluted with dangerous toxins, chemicals and other materials, posing a threat to wildlife and humans, and limited the public use of the waterway and surrounding lands.
After many years of study, in December 2000 the EPA declared the stretch a Superfund site that has to be cleaned up. The EPA announced its cleanup plan in January 2017.
But work has not yet started on most of the polluted locations. The EPA has been negotiating in secret with the potentially responsible parties (PRPs) to reach agreement on who will do what work, but few apparently have committed.
In December 2018, the EPA informed the parties that they must begin negotiations by June 30 to design their cleanup plans and then sign remedial design agreements by Dec. 31.
Portland and Oregon are among the PRPs. They both support the EPA's efforts to move the cleanup process forward. Together, they agreed to create and fund the trust to help encourage the reluctant parties to create their remedial cleanup plans. Under the agreement, the EPA will credit the city and state for their contributions to the fund.
IS THIS ALL THE CITY WILL HAVE TO PAY? No, Portland is still liable for the costs of cleaning up pollution in multiple locations in the harbor. Although detailed cost estimates have yet to be made, the actual cleanup is expected to cost much more than preparing the plans for it.
The city has been collecting money to help pay all costs through a Superfund site charge on the combined water-sewer-stormwater management bill administered by the Portland Water Bureau for years. That is the source of the $12 million. It is unclear whether and when the council will need to find other funds to help pay for the city's total share.
WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE? The city's Superfund website is at portlandoregon.gov/bes/56848.
WHAT CAN I DO? You can testify at the Wednesday, May 15, hearing in the Council Chambers at City Hall, located at 1221 S.W. Fourth Ave., Portland. If you can't attend, you can find contact information for all council members at portlandoregon.gov.