What’s next for the Portland Harbor Superfund site

Port of Portland
EPA divers deploy at the Portland Harbor superfund site

A communications plan and water testing will move forward this Fall. 

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Not unlike the Mission Impossible series, the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup keeps on iterating. The latest sequel was revealed at Wednesday’s city council meeting.

State and federal government officials and the Port of Portland expect to begin sampling in the next month or so at Willamette Cove. They’ll also roll out a sophisticated communication effort this fall. State and federal agencies will use digital tools to provide real-time updates.

“This is perhaps the most robust communications plan I’ve ever seen,” said commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the water bureau and the Bureau of Environmental Services, where the superfund project is housed. 

The project has been bogged down for years because of its unusual complexity and political hold ups. More than a hundred parties share responsibility for the cleanup. The 10-mile site, stretching from Sauvie Island to just past the Fremont Bridge, carries cultural significance for six tribes. A range of pollutants — DDT and other pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and petroleum — all stew together in river sediments.

The EPA issued its final cleanup plan in 2017, and now agencies are working through the details. OPB reported in April that the one hundred concerned parties are haggling over who pays for what.

Fish expressed concern about the constantly rotating leadership at the Environmental Protection Agency. He noted that director Scott Pruitt and Albert Kelly, his aide charged with reforming the superfund program, put aside their conservative politics and prioritized the site. Last December, the Oregonian reported, the site made the list of 21 sites that the EPA marked for “immediate and intense” action.

“This is perhaps the most robust communications plan I’ve ever seen,” Fish says. 

Fish questioned whether Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist now serving as acting administrator, would show the same enthusiasm.

Bureau of Environmental Services officials assured him that superfund cleanups remain a priority at the agency.

Council discussed the superfund project because a technical fix was needed to authorize an ongoing $2.5 million contract with GSI Water Solutions for risk assessment assistance.

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