Enviros Question Port of Portland
by Scott Learn
The Port of Portland is depositing dredge spoils from Portland Harbor with low levels of contamination on West Hayden Island, telling regulators the spoils will be used as fill for future industrial development on the island.
Environmental groups who want the island preserved for habitat said Wednesday that the Port's moves threaten wildlife and could increase the costs of improving the island's habitat.
The Port's assertion of industrial use also runs counter to the city's long-running deliberations over the future of the 800-acre island, still being considered as a possible nature preserve, Willamette Riverkeeper and the Audubon Society of Portland said.
"They took a critically important natural area and they intentionally contaminated it," said Bob Sallinger, Audubon's conservation director. "And they did it under the pretense that the site was going to be developed anyway, despite the fact that the city has not completed its process yet."
Port spokesman Josh Thomas said the northern swath of the island where marine terminals are proposed has been used for dredge spoils for 75 years and planned for industrial uses since 1983. Low levels of contamination are typical in dredge spoils, he said.
"There's nothing that couldn't be undone there, whether it's developed or not," Thomas said. The dredged material "could be used as fill, it could be sold, it could be used for habitat."
Last week, after a committee that included Port and environmental representatives deadlocked on the island's future, the City Council authorized staff to begin planning for marine terminals on 300 acres of the undeveloped 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.
Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality approved depositing 30,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils from the Port's Terminal 5 in June, and that project is done. In July, the DEQ endorsed plans to deposit another 75,000 cubic yards of spoils from dredging around the Post Office Bar, 2 miles up the Willamette River from its confluence from the Columbia. That project is out for public comment through Sept. 3.
Tom Roick, a DEQ senior policy analyst, said the Port would have had a tougher time meeting requirements for putting spoils on the island if it had indicated that a nature preserve was likely on the dump site. New state rules require that spoils deposited on land be put to a "productive" use -- industrial fill in the case of the Port projects.
But Roick said the agency was aware of the nature preserve discussion, and put conditions in its approvals to address that possibility.
Terminal 5 and the Post Office Bar are within the federal Superfund cleanup site for Portland Harbor, but are dredged for navigation purposes and are not Superfund cleanup projects.
Some samples of the Terminal 5 materials found lead and zinc exceeding screening levels for threatened or endangered birds, which include bald eagles observed on the island, DEQ said. The contamination is "only a concern for long-term exposure if the property were not to be used for commercial or industrial purposes," the agency said. Within four years of placement, the Port has to resample to show that the concentrations are below screening levels or cover the material with two feet of fill or a permanent cap.
The material from the Post Office Bar exceeds clean fill criteria due to samples above screening levels for hydrocarbons and DDT, the now-banned pesticide. If land use changes from the proposed industrial or commercial use, DEQ said, the Port "must reevaluate the risk screening of the material to ensure the use is protective of human health and the environment."
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