More than a hundred parties share responsibility for cleaning up the highly polluted 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River known as the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

More than a hundred parties share responsibility for cleaning up the highly polluted 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River known as the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

Cassandra Profita/OPB/EarthFix

Portland City Council is considering a new agreement with the state of Oregon to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund site. In a meeting Wednesday, city commissioners were presented with the plan, which will provide a fund to start planning and designing cleanup projects.

The Portland Harbor Superfund site is a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River, from Sauvie Island to the Broadway Bridge. Sediment at the bottom of the river is contaminated with pollutants from over 100 years of industrial use.

Over 150 groups, including the City of Portland, are considered responsible for the pollutants in the site. Rather than have each party enter into their own agreement with the EPA and the city, Portland and Oregon will each contribute $12 million toward a fund that the groups  involved can then draw from to create cleanup designs.

Under the agreement, that money cannot be used for administrative costs, or even to clean up the harbor: responsible parties will need to pay for that themselves.

The hope is that creating this fund will reduce administrative costs, while also allowing individual groups to customize their cleanup design plans based on the current and future use of their respective areas.

This agreement is designed to help Portland comply with the EPA’s timeline, which has said that the city and groups responsible for cleanup efforts need to begin negotiating with the EPA by June 30, 2019. By setting up this fund, Portland and Oregon have made it less likely that the EPA will take enforcement actions against them for this phase of work.

“This is … a creative and unique partnership, one we believe will propel forward the cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site,” Nik Blosser, chief of staff for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, said during the meeting. “It reflects our commitments toward making real progress to get the harbor cleaned up as soon as practicable.”

The project got conditional support from at least one of the lead environmental groups watching the Superfund process in Portland.

“We’re very excited that the city and the state are moving forward and taking a leadership role,”  said Bob Sallinger, the conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, who testified and tentatively supported the proposal. “We’ve been waiting 20 years to get to clean up.”

The total cleanup project is expected to take 30 years and cost over $1 billion. The Portland City Council is expected to look at the proposal again next week and likely vote on it then.