Oregon authorities accuse EPA of delaying, weakening Portland Harbor cleanup plan

A map of the Willamette River showing the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. (Map courtesy Environmental Protection Agency).

Gov. Kate Brown, the city of Portland and environmental groups are urging the Trump administration not to delay a major cleanup operation at Portland Harbor.

The 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River is a Superfund cleanup site contaminated with many hazardous substances.

It was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Priorities List in December of 2000.

In early January, a $1.05 billion cleanup plan emerged that a major local environmental group said would "do a lot of good."

But now they and local government authorities say the EPA is looking to weaken it.

"Toxic pollutants are in the river bottom today," Travis Williams, executive director of the environmental group, Willamette Riverkeeper, told KATU on Monday. "Those pollutants are out here -- PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), heavy metals, other toxics which can persist in fish tissue for many years and cause significant problems both for ecological health and for human health if we consume fish."

The Superfund site starts at the Broadway Bridge and stretches north to around Sauvie Island.

Williams said Willamette Riverkeeper started monitoring the progress of the cleanup plan from the beginning. He said the finalization of the plan in early January was a big step forward.

"We had hoped to potentially see equipment in the Willamette River sometime two years down the line," Williams said. "That would've signaled the start of the removal of a lot of contaminated sediment and other measures taken to reduce those toxics."

But now Williams said it appears the EPA is trying to delay and weaken the cleanup plan.

And he's not alone.

Responding to documentation the EPA released last week, Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) sent the federal agency a letter saying, in part, that the EPA is "planning for years of further delay" and that the new EPA plan is faulty, saying " ... The locations of the proposed surface sediment samples do not appear to be appropriate ... leaving major gaps in data collection within the site itself."

"It's an effort to find results that show less pollution," Williams said. "And if they can show less pollution by creating a shoddy sampling plan they will try to go back to the foundational documents for this entire cleanup and rewrite them."

The city of Portland wrote a letter in support of the DEQ's claims.

On Monday, Gov. Brown released the following statement:

"We must move forward with the cleanup of the Portland Harbor, but the federal administration’s latest direction to the EPA undermines the progress we’ve made. Such a significant setback could impact Oregon’s economy, as well as the long term health of the species and habitats the Willamette River supports. I urge the EPA to honor its commitment to work collaboratively and transparently with the state, city, and all responsible parties that have long worked toward a thorough and cost effective clean up of the Portland Harbor.”

KATU talked with an EPA spokesperson Monday afternoon and he did not offer an official statement.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off