PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Oregon officials plan to temporarily close the waters around Willamette Cove in Portland this summer to conduct sampling that will inform future environmental cleanup efforts.
The area of the Willamette River is part of the Portland Harbor Superfund site, a 10-mile stretch of the river in Portland that contains about 370 acres of sediment severely contaminated with toxic pollutants from decades of industrial activities.
Boating and other public uses in the waters around Willamette Cove would be prohibited from June 15 through Sept. 5, officials with the Oregon Department of State Lands announced Wednesday, April 6.
The closure would allow field workers to collect soil, sediment and water samples as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state and local agencies and other working parties continue planning for the cleanup of the site.
People can provide comments on the proposed closure through May 5 by emailing Barbara Park Poage at firstname.lastname@example.org or mailing written comments to 775 Summer St. N.E., Suite 100, Salem, OR 97301.
The Portland Harbor Superfund site was added to the EPA’s National Priorities List for environmental cleanup in 2000.
River sediments, surface water and fish that reside in the harbor have high levels of PCBs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins/furans, DDT and other pesticides that present an unacceptable risk to people’s health, especially subsistence and tribal fishers, and to the environment.
Willamette Cove, where industrial activities such as lumber milling and ship repair occurred for more than a century, is on the east side of the river between the St. Johns and Willamette Railroad bridges. Waters around the cove are among 18 project areas within the Superfund site that have been designated for active in-water cleanup work.
Metro owns a 27-acre upland portion of Willamette Cove. The regional government has been working with community members to turn the area into a future recreational site. The property has been closed to the public for years due to contamination prior to Metro’s ownership.
Last year, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality selected a final cleanup plan, called a Record of Decision, for the upland portion of Willamette Cove. Timing of the upland cleanup is tied to larger cleanup efforts of the Superfund site, DEQ officials say.
In 2017, the EPA issued a Record of Decision for the entire Portland Harbor Superfund site. The EPA and DEQ are working with six Native American tribes, 36 responsible parties and other stakeholders to implement the Record of Decision and clean up the site.
The cleanup should reduce people’s exposure to high levels of contaminants, make it safer for all but the most sensitive people to eat more fish from the river more often, and make it safer for people to play on the riverbanks and beaches. Active cleanup construction, including dredging and capping of contaminated sediments, is expected to take about 13 years.
In February 2021, the EPA announced it had finalized an agreement to develop a detailed cleanup implementation plan for Swan Island Basin, another area of the site requiring active cleanup. The basin was the last remaining area that had no such agreement in place. The announcement was significant because it meant 100% of the site’s areas requiring active cleanup were brought into the remedial design phase of the cleanup process.
The agreement was between 12 parties, including four private companies responsible for the pollution as well as federal, state and local agencies as settling parties.
The process includes a predesign sampling investigation and report to understand the current extent of contamination and help determine the most effective cleanup technologies, consistent with the 2017 Record of Decision.
The remedial design phase for the basin is expected to take four years, after which active cleanup will begin.
EPA has been making progress on the remedial design work for the areas requiring cleanup, said Caleb Shaffer, the agency’s lead for the superfund site, in a public meeting last month.
Shaffer noted during the meeting that the EPA recently launched the Portland Harbor StoryMap. The interactive online tool allows people to learn about the tribal, environmental justice, and general histories of the site through a storytelling lens.
“It’s not like your typical website, it really is an interactive, broad look at this site and its history,” Shaffer said. “It’s intended to be a living tool.”
Last month, the EPA designated another superfund site in Oregon — the Columbia River’s Bradford Island. The island near the Bonneville Dam complex is now the 12th Superfund site in Oregon.
After major budget cuts during the Trump administration, the EPA’s Superfund program recently received a boost in funding. The federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which was passed last year, allocated $3.5 billion for the program.
To learn more about the Portland Harbor Superfund Site, visit the EPA’s website.