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Water | Environment

Watchdog Group Threatens To Sue Vigor Industrial

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center this week warned Vigor Industrial that it will sue if the Portland shipyard doesn’t curb its stormwater discharges of zinc and copper.

“The toxic heavy metals that are coming off the site in substantial quantities are really bad news for the Willamette River and Portland Harbor,” said NEDC director Mark Riskedahl. “There’re many aquatic species that are highly sensitive to the very suite of metals that are regularly discharged from this operation.”

Vigor’s vice president, Alan Sprott, said the company is working with state officials to change its operation.

“We’re into the seven figures on dealing with stormwater runoff and then have plans to put into place infrastructure to deal with stormwater and essentially eliminate all stormwater runoff from our site,” Sprott said.

Sprott says heavy metals come from the products the company uses to coat ships.

The company’s stormwater discharge is regulated under the federal Clean Water Act. Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality issues the permit, but the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services inspects the shipyard, reviews Vigor’s discharge monitoring reports, evaluates the site for compliance and assists the site to bring it into compliance with its permit.

“Our facility has a significant amount of copper and zinc in the products that we use, primarily the coatings that go on ships, and so we have been implementing measures to systematically reduce either the production activities that generate the copper and zinc or put in controls to handle that and put in controls to manage the stormwater runoff from the facility,” Sprott said.

The company may be able to route its stormwater to catch basins where the soil could soak up the metals, Sprott said. Then the company could excavate the soil and take it to a landfill. Putting such a plan in action could take two or three years, he said.

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center sent Vigor a 60-day letter of intent to sue this week. The action is covered under the Clean Water Act, which gives citizens the right to enforce the law if regulators fail to do so.

“We are interested in permit compliance, we’re interested in them cleaning up their act, doing more, doing better, doing it faster. They’ve got the resources to do so and they should be investing them accordingly,” Riskedahl said.

City officials have sent Vigor several notices of noncompliance since 2008. They are documented in NEDC’s letter below.

Sprott said Vigor is not out of compliance with its permit.

“We’re in a situation where we have two masters,” Sprott said. “The city is trying to tell us to do one thing and we’re working with the state to try to control our source issues that have to do with our stormwater runoff. It’s very difficult and it’s very costly so we essentially as a company have put our eggs in the basket of working with the state to address our stormwater runoff.”

The state recently issued the company a new permit that has even more stringent limits on copper and zinc, Sprott said. The only way Vigor can meet those limits is to stop discharging into the river, he said.

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