Regulators Reevaluating Dredge Spoil
by Scott Learn
The city of Portland and Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality are reevaluating whether dredge spoils with low levels of contamination should be dumped on West Hayden Island after island activists and environmental groups raised concerns about the proposal.
The Port of Portland wants to put 75,000 cubic yards of material dredged to improve navigation over the Willamette River's Post Office Bar onto the undeveloped western portion of the island, whose northern flank has long been used as a dumping site.
But Willamette Riverkeeper, the Audubon Society of Portland and others objected at a DEQ hearing on a draft permit Monday night, noting the spoils contain low levels of hydrocarbons and DDT, the now-banned pesticide.
On Aug. 4, city planners signed a land-use compatibility form that DEQ required before approving the project. Planner Phil Nameny said Tuesday that the form appears to cover only the dredging in the Willamette, not dumping on the Columbia River island. He said the city is researching whether the dumping also requires city approval.
DEQ officials said they assumed the city's endorsement included the dumping site. That was key to concluding -- as required by state regulations -- that depositing the dredge spoils would qualify as a "beneficial use," in this case serving as fill for future industrial development, said Jim Anderson, DEQ's Portland Harbor cleanup manager.
DEQ also wants to do more research on how much of the island is in the 100-year flood plain, important because a flood could send contaminated soil into the Columbia River. Opponents' concerns about the potential for contaminants to seep into groundwater also need more evaluation, agency officials said.
At the same time, river pilots worry about delaying the dredging at the Post Office Bar, 2 miles up the Willamette River from its confluence from the Columbia. The window for doing in-water work ends Oct. 31.
The issue is hot right now because Portland is in the midst of evaluating the long-term use of the Port-owned island, which could range from an industrial marine terminal to a wildlife reserve.
In late July -- shortly before the city planner's signed off -- the City Council authorized staff to begin planning for marine terminals on 300 acres of the 800-acre island, including the dredge spoil site. But council members noted that they won't make a final decision on the island's future until late next year.
Despite the ongoing city review of the island's future, the Port told DEQ that the property was intended for industrial use when it applied to dump the spoils. An industrial use requires less stringent environmental protection than a wildlife reserve. The DEQ's draft permit does say that the Port must reevaluate the risk if the property ends up being used for something other than industry.
The Port says the dumping is routine and doesn't pose a threat.
But Bob Sallinger, conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, said opponents of the Port's dumping plan want the city to yank its approval. They also want state and federal regulators to reevaluate past dumping in light of the flood plain and groundwater concerns, which could force the Port to relocate or cap the spoils with clean soil.
Regulatory agencies "clearly did not analyze this correctly," Sallinger said.
DEQ's permit for the Post Office Bar project is open for public comment through Sept. 7.
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