Oregon OKs Dumping of Contaminated
by Scott Learn
West Hayden Island's industrial prospects are far from certain, but they're firm enough to allow the Port of Portland to accept new contaminated dredge spoils on the undeveloped island for industrial fill, Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality has decided.
That decision, which could draw a lawsuit from the Audubon Society of Portland, allows the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge 75,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Willamette River's Post Office Bar and pump it onto the Port-owned island, whose northern flank has long been a dumping site.
The spoils contain low levels of PCBs, metals and DDT, the now-banned pesticide. Audubon, Willamette Riverkeeper and island activists want the island reserved as wildlife habitat and say dumping contaminated spoils is inappropriate.
DEQ's decision hinged on whether the dumping is a "beneficial use" of the spoils, in this case as fill for future industrial development. State regulations require a beneficial use finding for on-land dumping. The spoils are too contaminated for in-water dumping.
Portland's City Council hasn't decided whether to allow industrial use on West Hayden Island. In July, the council told staff to begin planning for marine terminals on 300 acres of the 800-acre island, including the dredge spoil site. But the council won't make a final decision until late next year and didn't rule out a nature reserve.
Wendy Wiles, DEQ's land quality administrator, said she concluded that prospects for industrial use are "reasonably likely" and dumping is justified. The Port, which told DEQ it planned to use the space for industry, may have to relocate the fill or cap it if the council opts against industrial development, she said.
The Metro regional government's plans include the Columbia River island as future industrial land.
In a Sept. 17 letter to the Port, Mayor Sam Adams called the timing of the permit application "unfortunate" and reiterated that "all options" are on the table. But the mayor didn't reject industrial development, Wiles noted. On Sept. 22, Portland planners told DEQ that the island's zoning allows dumping.
"There's nothing we've seen that suggests it's not going to be developed," she said.
Bob Sallinger, Audubon's conservation director, said the group is considering its legal options. DEQ's conclusion is "the height of speculation" amid the discussion of the island's future, he said. And the dumping risks contamination of the Columbia through flooding or leaching into groundwater.
The agencies "seem to be more concerned about getting along with each other than protecting the community," Sallinger said.
DEQ said the dumping would result in a "de minimus" increase in hazardous substances on the island. The Post Office Bar, about 2 miles up the Willamette in Portland Harbor, is a potential navigation hazard last dredged in 1989.
Sallinger said the project could begin next week. The Corps is seeking a dredging contractor, a spokeswoman said, and it's unclear if they'll meet the Oct. 31 deadline for in-water work this year.
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