Novick's Harbor Doubtsby Aaron Mesh
Willamette Week, March 28, 2012
The city council candidate is pitching a reduced Willamette cleanup.
Of all the positions taken in the wrangling over the Portland Harbor cleanup, none is more surprising than Steve Novick's.
Novick is best known for his campaign for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2008, losing narrowly to Jeff Merkley.
In that race, Novick in part rode his reputation as an environmental crusader. In the 1990s, he worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Department of Justice, making his bones by prosecuting polluters on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.
He's now running for City Council and is almost certainly a cinch to win. He also has some sharp opinions about cleaning up the harbor.
Novick says the potential cost of $2 billion to clean up the harbor may not be the best investment.
Novick says he favors finding out how many people are eating Portland Harbor fish and basing the degree of cleanup on those results.
Last month, Novick told a meeting of the Coalition of Communities of Color, a Portland advocacy group, that its members should consider asking the EPA for a less intensive cleanup of Portland Harbor in exchange for health clinics and a public heath fund.
"I think public health dollars should be spent as effectively as possible," he tells WW, adding, "While I'm as green as all get-out, I don't think at a Superfund site we should assume the most expensive and extensive thing is the best thing to do."
The most extensive cleanup of the Portland Harbor that Novick seems skeptical about would involve widespread dredging of contaminated sediments.
Ironically, that's the very thing Novick advocated in the Portland Harbor when he was a Justice Department lawyer nearly 20 years ago.
In 1993, Novick compelled the Port of Portland to sign a consent decree that required it pay a $92,000 penalty for repeatedly spilling coal tar in the Willamette River at Terminal 4.
Novick is so proud of the case, he uses it to introduce himself on his current campaign website.
The decree -- which Novick negotiated on behalf of the U.S. -- also required the port to dredge contamination out of the river.
There was virtually no evidence the coal tar sitting at the bottom of Terminal 4 threatened human health.
Yet this lack of evidence is what Novick uses today to question an extensive harbor cleanup.
So how do those positions square?
Novick says he was always skeptical of expensive cleanups. "I would find myself thinking, 'Were we better off putting up signs rather than spending all that money?'" he says.
Novick's current stance has won him a few fans: companies in the Portland Harbor that face paying the cleanup bill.
He's received a $2,000 campaign contribution from Warren Rosenfeld, president of Calbag Metals Co., one of the Portland Harbor companies.
Novick also got a big check from the Greenbrier Cos., owner of barge- and railcar-maker Gunderson.
Novick says Greenbrier president and CEO Bill Furman asked him what was the largest contribution he had received so far. Novick said $4,000.
Furman gave him a check for $4,001.
Novick says he has made his views known about the Portland Harbor since he moderated a forum about the harbor in the fall of 2010.
"It's fair to say they had an indication of my thinking on the issue," Novick says of his big contributors.
"A year later, they donated."
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