the film

Everyone's Waiting on Instructions
for Cleaning Up the Willamette

by Dirk VanderHart
The Portland Mercury, March 30, 2016

Here's What They'll Probably Look Like

The Swan Island Lagoon is central to the debate about the Environmental Protection Agency's assessment of risk from polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination. The harbor businesses say the EPA's assessment is overblown. (Portland, Oregon--02/07/2012 -- Jamie Francis/The Oregonian) AFTER MORE THAN 15 years, Portland's finally about to receive a detailed chore list for cleaning its river.

At some point in the next few weeks, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release a proposed plan for how the city and potentially more than 150 other entities must attack a century's worth of dangerous pollution sitting in sediment at the bottom of the Portland Harbor.

"That, after 15 years, is pretty awesome," is how Kim Cox of the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services puts the anticipation around the plan. It is a very big deal.

The 10-mile federally listed "Superfund" site -- stretching roughly from the Fremont Bridge to the Columbia River -- encompasses nearly 2,200 acres. Because of decades of industrial activity along the river, a lot of those acres are infected with dozens of nasty acronyms like DDT and PCB that find their way into local fish, birds, river mammals -- and potentially humans (mostly via eating fish), where they can pose a cancer risk.

So there are a lot of people anxiously waiting to see what sort of cleanup will be mandated. And, obviously, there are a lot of people eyeing the price tag.

But it turns out you don't have to look too far to get a sense of what the EPA has in mind. Back in November, the agency unveiled its "preferred alternative" for sprucing up the Willamette, in a presentation to a national board tasked with reviewing such cleanup plans.

That option will probably be tweaked before it reappears in April, but it's a good bet whatever the EPA proposes won't be too far off. And it's of vital interest to Portlanders not just because our local fish are splashing health hazards.

The city -- which dumped sewage and stormwater into the river for decades -- will almost certainly be asked to pay for a segment of the cleanup. That means you'll be asked to pay for a segment of the cleanup (you've already paid millions to study the river bottom).

So what can you expect? Here are some basics of the plan the EPA has signaled it likes:

Dirk VanderHart
Everyone's Waiting on Instructions for Cleaning Up the Willamette
The Portland Mercury, March 30, 2016

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