PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A $33 million settlement has been reached to restore natural resources in the Portland Harbor after contaminants were released into the Willamette River, the United States Department of Justice announced Thursday.
The settlement was reached between federal, state and tribal agencies against more than 20 Potentially Responsible Parties, officials said. According to court documents, defendants in the case include the City of Portland, Evraz Inc., MMG LLC, PacifiCorp, Port of Portland, Schnitzer Steel Industries, and Siltronic Corporation.
According to court documents, the United States Environmental Protection Agency found over 45 hazardous substances — including polycholorinated biphenyls (PCBs), copper, lead, and mercury — in sediment, soil, and groundwater at the Portland Harbor Natural Resource Damage Assessment Area.
Authorities said the PSPs must pay the estimated restoration value of $33.2 million or they can buy credits to restore salmon and other natural resources due to the contamination. The settlement includes more than $600,000 in damages for the public’s lost use of the river and for the restoration of culturally significant plants and animals.
Other projects include restoring habitats for bald eagles, mink, and lamprey along with native plants like camas, wapato, and sweetgrass. Officials said construction is complete and they are working on restoration for all four projects – which will be permanently protected from development.
The four restoration projects selling the credits include – Alder Creek, Harborton, Linnton Mill, and Rinearson Natural Area, which are habitats for juvenile Chinook Salmon. Officials note Chinook salmon are of “tremendous cultural significance” to the Five Tribes.
“This settlement represents years of hard work by the Portland Harbor natural resource trustees and responsible parties who cooperated to restore the harm caused by those parties’ contamination,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The resulting restoration projects funded by these agreements will provide permanent ecological benefits to help restore the biodiversity of the Willamette River system.”
According to the Department of Justice, the restoration credits – which were developed in partnership with private developers for four natural resource projects – is a novel feature of the settlement. Authorities described the credits as “ecological ‘shares,’” noting natural resource trustees decided how many shares the project is worth.
Authorities said the credits have allowed on-the-ground restoration to occur sooner and at a lower cost compared to a cash-only settlement. The DOJ noted, “collectively, the restoration value in these projects is the largest natural resource credit bank at any Superfund Site in the country.”
“The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe wholly support this settlement,” said the Five Tribes.
The Five Tribes furthered, “contamination has uniquely affected tribal members because of their cultural use of and relationship with affected natural resources in and around the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The Five Tribes believe the collaborative process of this settlement represents the best path forward for restoring Portland Harbor natural resources for the benefit of both current and future generations.”
Authorities said the agreement is from an early settlement between governmental and tribal natural resource trustees at the Portland Harbor Superfund Site and the PRPs. However, negotiations with other PRPs are ongoing and may include more cash settlements or restoration credits.
Officials said the settlement is subject to a 45-day public comment period and final court approval.