As published in the Portland Tribune
October 27, 2015
by Travis Williams
Citizens must be vigilant to ensure Willamette River contaminants are removed correctly
Over many decades, a stretch of the Willamette River from the Fremont Bridge to near the Columbia River has been heavily polluted. Mixed into the river sediments over the years, contaminants such as PCBs, heavy metals, oil-based pollutants, and even the breakdown products of DDT are found in this area.
See story as reported in The Oregonian
"None of the cleanup alternatives outlined in the feasibility study achieve sediment contamination reductions that will result in a healthy river," the group argued in comments submitted Monday to the federal environmental agency.
The Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group has submitted comments to the EPA's National Remedy Review Board asking for a more vigorous cleanup plan for the lower Willamette River.
Our recommendations were announced at a press conference held Cathedral Park.
Below is the prepared comments made at the press conference (actual comments varied):
As Published in the Sunday Oregonian:
By Jim Robison and Jackie Calder
Story by Tony Schick at OPB: http://www.opb.org/news/series/unprepared/oregon-earthquake-fuel-breakdo...
Yumei Wang...an engineer with Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, known as DOGAMI...“The risk here is extreme,” she said. After an earthquake, “within 10, 20 seconds, the sand will turn into a thick, sandy soup.”
And that would be bad.
Soil liquefaction, as it’s known to geologists, can exacerbate shaking and destroy roads, buildings and underground pipes. If that happens here in Portland, it could devastate supply lines for fuel, electricity and natural gas. It could also mean a major chemical spill into the Willamette River.
Published at http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/09/lower_willamette_wil...
Sept. 25, 2015
By Dennis McLerran
After more than 150 years of heavy industrial activity, expansive growth and world-changing innovations, the Portland area is on the verge of a transformational effort to restore the very river that drove so much of the region's economic success and cultural history.
Indeed, if it could be grown, processed, manufactured or repaired, it was going to happen along the Willamette. And that same "get it done" attitude was resurrected in the '60s and '70s when former Gov. Tom McCall drove the fight to clean up the Willamette, which had caused public health authorities to ban people from its waters.
The governor rallied public opinion and the state Legislature to create the Department of Environmental Quality – and to give it teeth. Over time, the pollution insults slowed, and by the 1980s, water quality improvement in the Willamette was heralded as one of the great success stories of the nascent environmental movement.
Despite these efforts, decades of heavy industrial use and the millions of people living in the watershed continued to pollute the river. Today, the bottom and banks of the Lower Willamette within Portland Harbor remain contaminated with heavy metals, PCBs, hydrocarbons, dioxins and pesticides.
In some areas of Portland Harbor resident fish and shellfish aren't safe to eat, and direct contact with sediment can pose a risk to people. Despite health agency warnings, people continue to eat fish and shellfish from the river, putting themselves and their families at risk.
Figuring out how to clean up Portland Harbor to the satisfaction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been a challenge for Portland industries bucking the agency's position on the distribution of river toxics. As recently as March of this year, EPA wrote a stern letter to the Lower Willamette Group – a collection of industries taking the lead in studying the harbor's pollution and figuring out ways to remedy it – arguing that LWG showed myopia about background chemicals drifting into the cleanup site from upriver and could undermine cleanup efforts. Among other things, the federal agency directed LWG to conduct extensive estimations of the presence in the river of some 23 chemicals.
Nobody disputes that big patches of the Willamette River bottom in a 10-mile segment of the designated Superfund area constitute a toxic mess. PCBs and pesticides are among the carcinogenic chemicals embedded in mud and show up in "hot spot" sediment concentrations far exceeding safe levels for humans and fish. But an estimated 150 businesses and municipalities, among them the city of Portland, will pay to clean things up at a cost that could top $2 billion over several years. The financial stakes are as high as the environmental threat, built over a century of unbridled industrial activity in the city's marine hub.
Now the EPA, after years of studying the site and negotiating with LWG, has markedly changed the game. Without fanfare, the agency has told Portland officials it's done gathering data and spelled out five alternative cleanup scenarios – a bold stroke pitching responsibility to Portland for helping to configure a rational plan forward. It had been feared EPA would release its own version of a cleanup plan, possibly onerous in scale and leaving harbor industries and Portland officials palms skyward. With a menu of cleanup choices, however, the region can avoid getting stuck on a single EPA vision and argue instead about what's right for the river and for Portland citizens and industries. Projected cleanup costs range from zero, for doing nothing, to well beyond $2 billion, for doing extensive dredging, sediment removal and treatment, and capping over many years.
That's not to say EPA won't get its way. Its job is to ensure compliance with federal environment laws. But it became clear in recent weeks the agency seeks to ensure a balance is struck between adequate remediation and cost. Public hearings are ahead. An EPA technical advisory group will meet in Portland in November to weigh Portland's concerns against the options. And EPA, after years of study at times marked by tussles with LWG, hopes to have a working plan in hand next year. That will be key in a process already spanning several years: Not until EPA's record of decision is achieved can the harrowing process of cost allocation – deciding who pays how much to repair the river – be fully brokered.
In an interview with the editorial board of The Oregonian/OregonLive, EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran was plain: "We're driven by the data. Our preferred alternative will be a hybrid (of the plans). We're framing up the issues. We know that the river is slowly, naturally recovering – 60 percent to 80 percent (of the harbor) would be under natural recovery – but 13 hot spots require active remediation, and that's EPA's real focus."