PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Global engineering and design firm Stantec has helped secure $800,000 in federal funding for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to revitalize the former Blue Heron Mill into a multiuse public gathering space.

Before the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde purchased the land in 2019, the 23-acre site surrounding the Willamette Falls had remained vacant since the mill’s closure in 2011.

“I think in a lot of people’s minds the Blue Heron site is the most notable Brownfield in the state of Oregon,” Stantec Senior Associate in Environmental Services Carrie Rackey said. “The site has such a rich history dating back to the Tribe’s use of it in the past and its State history as the end of the Oregon Trail, so we’ve all been watching it for a long time.”

Due to the firm’s reputation in Brownfield revitalization, the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde brought Stantec on to help write up the Brownfield grant application to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to secure funding and implement the scope of the reward. 

File – Willamette Falls, Oregon City (KOIN)

With the EPA Brownfield Multipurpose Grant awarded to the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in 2021, the Tribal nation hopes to bring public access back to Willamette Falls for the first time in over 100 years.

Demolition efforts at the Oregon City site began in September of 2021.

“Over the past few months, we have seen the Tribe’s vision for the former Blue Heron site begin to take shape,” CTGR Communications Director Sara Thompson said. “The site’s abandoned buildings have been coming down and a new era for the site is just beginning. We’re excited to have Stantec working with us to create a healthy environment that everyone can enjoy.”

Stantec told KOIN 6 News they will work closely with the Tribe and the EPA to help deliver its vision for the transformational project.

“The Blue Heron Mill site and Willamette Falls have an incredibly rich history intrinsically tied to the culture of The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde,” Rackey stated. “We are thrilled to support the Tribe’s vision, reimagining the space to serve as a gathering place and economic catalyst for the greater Portland Region, while respecting the surrounding land and its immeasurable importance to the Tribe.”

Willamette Falls Plan Graphic Looking North (Courtesy: The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde)

According to Rackey, the multiuse grant awarded to the Tribe was the maximum amount offered by the EPA and one of only 10 issued nationally each year.

“As one of only 10 awards made nationwide, it’s a really big deal,” Racket explained. “It speaks to EPA’s impression of the potential for this site to really be transformative.”

Stantec told KOIN 6 News, the awarded funds can be used for both assessment and cleanup at the site, as well as supporting the Tribe’s engagement with the community to share progress information and conduct reuse planning as needed.

In a recent release, Stantec noted, “potential elements of the reuse plan include the creation of a multi‐use path that will provide visitors with riverfront access and an up‐close view of historic Willamette Falls; an enhanced riverbank reflecting the historic pathways of water from the falls; various open spaces; as well as new buildings for potential office, retail, residential, or hotel use.” 

Drummers at the Blue Heron Paper Mill Site (Courtesy: The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde)

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde have already made major progress on-site demolition and have projected that early access to public aspects of the project may be available as soon as 2023. 

Although the Tribe will not have access to the grant funding until later in 2022, when the EPA fiscal year begins, Rackey told KOIN 6 News the federal funding and recognition brings the team closer to actualizing the Tribe’s goal of public access and is a huge step for the project’s progress. 

“There are a lot of moving pieces and a lot of stakeholders,” Rackey explained. “But I think this grant certainly is an important step in getting the area the Riverwalk could occupy ready to serve that use and to help meet those goals.”