The Portland City Council voted Wednesday to authorize a spending agreement that pays for planning for the cleanup the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

The 10-mile section of the Willamette River stretches from Sauvie Island to the Broadway Bridge and was heavily polluted by over a hundred years of industrial use.

The Portland Harbor Superfund Site is a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River that is highly contaminated from more than a century of industrial pollution.

The Portland Harbor Superfund Site is a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River that is highly contaminated from more than a century of industrial pollution.

Bonnie Stewart/OPB/EarthFix

The Environmental Protection Agency in 2017 named the site as one of 21 Superfund locations targeted for immediate attention and had given polluters a deadline of June 30 to start planning their cleanup projects. In addition to the city of Portland and the state of Oregon, more than 150 other parties are considered responsible for the pollution in Portland Harbor. That’s made it difficult to get the ball rolling on cleanup work.

Under the new agreement, the city of Portland and state of Oregon will each contribute $12 million to a trust fund. Responsible parties can draw from the trust to finance research and development for their cleanup plans. The city and state aim to provide an incentive to move ahead with cleanup plans. By setting up the fund, Portland and Oregon have also made it less likely that the EPA will take enforcement actions against them for this phase of work.

These funds can only be used for research and development, City Commissioner Nick Fish stressed, adding, “The trust will not subsidize private parties or absolve them of their responsibility as polluters.”

That means the funds can only be used for planning, not administrative work. It also means that taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for the cleanup, which is expected to cost over $1 billion and take over 30 years.

The hope is that by creating this fund, the city and state will be saved the cost of managing a number of design proposals. It also allows each polluting party to design their own cleanup proposals, customizing their design plans based on current and future uses of their respective areas.

The cleanup could involve dredging toxic sand out of the river and capping other sources of pollution in cement.