The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde won an $800,000 EPA grant to begin assessing the toll of industry on the land near Willamette Falls.
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde has hired Stantec, a global engineering and design firm based in Canada, for the first phase of rehabilitation of the former Blue Heron Paper Mill site near Oregon City.
According to Stantec’s announcement of the partnership, the firm worked with the tribe to secure $800,000 in Environmental Protection Agency funding in May 2021 through the EPA’s Brownfields Multipurpose Grant program. The Tribe will get access to the money later this year, when the agency’s fiscal year begins.
“The Multipurpose Grant is truly a fantastic grant to get, as it allows you to utilize EPA funds for normal assessment and investigation work on brownfield sites, but also with cleanup and remediation work,” says Ryan Webb, engineering and planning manager for the tribal government.
According to Webb, Stantec will work with the Tribe to assess the site and hopefully begin some cleanup as well. The term of the grant is five years, and Webb anticipates the investigation phase will take two to three years.
Stantec also says it has partnered with the Portland-based and Native American-owned professional services firm Akana, as well as Hart Crowser, a division of Haley & Aldrich, to support the project.
The EPA defines a brownfield as “property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”
The land in question was used for industry for more than 100 years, most recently as the site of the Blue Heron Paper Mill, which closed in 2011 and was demolished last fall following its 2019 purchase by the Tribe. Prior to the arrival of white settlers, the land — and nearby Willamette Falls, which is one of the largest waterfalls in the country — was a sacred fishing site for people indigenous to the Northwest.
Prior to the tribal government’s purchase of the land, local governments had announced plans for a walkway but had not consulted with Native American tribes on the project. The Tribe is still looking to develop the area as a multiuse community site, but needs to conduct an environmental assessment first.
“The Tribe is currently exploring the highest and best uses for the property, but its current condition constrains potential economic opportunities both for the Tribe and the surrounding Portland metro area,” says Stantec’s press release.
Webb also says the Tribe had already begun assessing the environmental contamination of the property after purchasing the land in 2019 and is aware of contaminants in the soil — but that this EPA grant will allow engineers to do further investigation.
“We’re working to be really aggressive when it comes to this work, because public health and safety is definitely one of our highest priorities on-site. It’s just really important that we get this work completed sooner rather than later,” says Carrie Rackey, a project manager for Stantec.
The Tribe is also planning continued community engagement on the project, says Stacia Hernandez, the chief of staff for the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
“We're just excited to hear from the community and to work with local stakeholders and our members to see a project forward,” Hernandez says. “That's definitely a high priority for us, and we're happy to be home.”