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Audubon Society of Portland Statement on the Portland Harbor Superfund Record of Decision

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its Final Record of Decision (ROD) on the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The Record of Decision formally adopts a Cleanup Plan for Portland Harbor which was listed as a Superfund Site in the year 2000.

January 6, 2017

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its Final Record of Decision (ROD) on the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The Record of Decision formally adopts a Cleanup Plan for Portland Harbor which was listed as a Superfund Site in the year 2000. The Superfund designation is reserved for the most polluted and complex contamination sites in the United States. The Portland Harbor Superfund Site stretches more than 10 miles from the Fremont Bridge nearly to the confluence with the Columbia River and is polluted with a wide range of contaminants including PCBs, PAHs, DDT, and heavy metals. The pollution is the result of decades of industrial activity and the EPA has identified more than 150 different entities with responsibility for the pollution, including some of the biggest corporations in the world, in Oregon, as well as public entities such as the Port of Portland and the City of Portland. The pollution presents an ongoing threat to people, especially those who consume resident fish from this stretch of river. It also presents a significant threat to wildlife.

The announcement today by the EPA speaks to the strength of the grassroots coalition that was assembled to advocate for the health of our river and our communities. A coalition that included conservation groups, environmental justice groups, community groups, neighborhoods, and tribes strongly rejected a draft plan that was released by the EPA this summer which would have left more than 87 percent of the 2,200+ acre Superfund area contaminated and depended far too heavily on a strategy called “natural recovery” which amounts to waiting for the river to either cover the contamination with new sediment or flush it farther downstream. The public generated more than 5,300 public comments, an all-time record for a Superfund site in the western region, and the vast majority called for a stronger plan. Portland Audubon also appreciates the strong support for a more aggressive cleanup provided by Portland City Commissioners, Amanda Fritz and Chloe Eudaly during the public comment period—too many elected leader stood passively by in the face of a draft plan that was not adequate to protect our community and environment.

The plan released by the EPA today partially responds to those public concerns by adding more than 100 acres of additional of contamination that will be removed from the river, more aggressive riverbank treatments and adopting more aggressive strategies to cap remaining contamination. We are also pleased that EPA and the State of Oregon are committed to looking at addressing contamination upriver from the Superfund Area in recognition of the fact that there are variety of sources of ongoing contamination in the Willamette that need to be addressed. 

We are in the process of reviewing the plan and will release further analysis in the coming weeks, but the plan does appear to be a significant improvement over the draft that was released this summer. Portland Audubon appreciates the fact that the EPA appears to have taken community concerns seriously.

At the same time, Portland Audubon still has significant concerns. The plan remains significantly less aggressive than what was recommended by Portland Audubon, other community groups and tribes. Even under the most aggressive plan, it will take years to clean up the river and it is critical that the EPA take immediate steps to ensure that our most vulnerable communities, especially those who depend on fish from the Superfund area, are aware of the risk and have alternatives for consumption. It is also critical that the EPA and other entities work to ensure that jobs and economic benefits associated with this cleanup process benefit the local community and especially underserved populations that have been most affected by the contamination. Finally, it will be critical that the EPA, DEQ, City of Portland and other public entities do a much better job of engaging and involving the public in the process going forward to ensure that the cleanup is conducted in the most effective and responsible manner possible and to ensure that benefits accrue to those most affected. 

“The Willamette River belongs to everybody and it is long past time that we had a river that is safe for people and wildlife,” said Portland Audubon Conservation Director, Bob Sallinger. “This record of decision reflects the high level of the concern that the public has for the river and the power of their grassroots advocacy. It sends a strong message to those responsible for the pollution that it is time to step up and restore our river and communities to health.”

Portland Audubon urges parties that are responsible for the toxic contamination to move quickly to implement the cleanup. The sixteen years it has taken to reach this record of decision is in large part due to the obfuscations of responsible parties. The next steps in this process will include allocating liability for the cleanup among more than 150 responsible parties, developing detailed designs for implementing the cleanup plan and developing mitigation projects to compensate for environmental damage caused by the pollution. The health of our communities and our river has been compromised for too long already.  It is time to move forward expeditiously on implementation; it is time to begin the real work of cleaning up our river.

Click here to read Portland Audubon's comments on the draft plan.

Osprey by Jim Cruce
Osprey by Jim Cruce
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