science environment

New Portland Harbor Superfund Cleanup Agreements Secured By EPA

By Cassandra Profita (OPB)
March 9, 2020 7 p.m.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced eight new agreements Monday with parties responsible for cleaning up the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

The agency said it now has signed cleanup agreements covering more than half of the Superfund site area that requires active cleanup on Portland's Willamette River. Under the EPA's cleanup plan, much of the Superfund site will be allowed to recover naturally over time without any active cleanup work.


The agency is still negotiating with other parties that have yet to sign agreements. Federal regulators could issue enforcement orders to require cleanup action.

An illustration of areas where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed cleanup agreements, in red, and areas where negotiations are still underway, in blue.

An illustration of areas where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed cleanup agreements, in red, and areas where negotiations are still underway, in blue.

Courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Portland Harbor Superfund Site runs north from the Broadway Bridge to the Columbia Slough. It’s highly contaminated with dozens of pollutants from more than a century of industrial use.

The EPA spent decades developing a $1 billion cleanup plan and it's now in the process of negotiating individual cleanup plans, known as remedial design agreements, with parties that are required to pay for the cleanup.

The EPA already had agreements with the Port of Portland, the city of Portland and NW Natural for areas including Terminal 4, River Mile 11 East between the Steel Bridge and Broadway Bridge and the Gasco site near the northwest industrial area and the St. Johns Bridge.

On Monday, the agency announced additional agreements with more than a dozen companies for cleanups at River Mile 7 West and Willbridge Cove near the northwest industrial area, River Mile 9 West and River Mile 10 East and West downstream from the Fremont Bridge, and an area known as B1a along the western shoreline near Linnton.

The agency is still negotiating with parties responsible for large portions of the Superfund site on the east side of the river near the University of Portland, the Overlook and St. Johns neighborhoods and along the northern portion of the Port of Portland.


EPA officials said they could not disclose which parties have yet to sign agreements because negotiations are ongoing. For areas where “good faith negotiations” are not underway, they said, the agency plans to issue enforcement orders to require those parties to develop remedial design plans for the areas they are responsible for cleaning up.

The companies that have signed agreements include NW Natural, Arkema Inc., Bayer Crop Science Inc., General Electric Company, Chevron U.S.A. Inc., Kinder Morgan Liquids Terminals LLC, McCall Oil and Chemical Corporation, Phillips 66 Company, Shell Oil Company, Atlantic Richfield Company, BP Products North America Inc., Brix Maritime Co., Exxon Mobil Corporation, Kinder Morgan Liquids Terminals LLC, Union Pacific Railroad Company and FMC Corporation,  PacifiCorp, Cargill, Inc., CBS Corporation and DIL Trust, Glacier Northwest, Inc.

The EPA credited the city of Portland and the state of Oregon for contributing $12 million apiece to a fund that offered to help parties pay for their cleanup plans. The fund was created last year to spur cleanup action, offering $80,000 per acre to parties that signed agreements with the EPA. In exchange, the city and state get credit toward their Superfund cleanup costs. So far, $11.2 million has been claimed from the fund, according to the city.

In a statement, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler applauded the success of the fund, which helped the EPA secure agreements on 140 contaminated acres, including the entire western portion of the Superfund site.

“This is a unique and bold approach by public agencies,” Wheeler said, “and it’s resulting in the most significant progress we have seen since the site was listed 20 years ago.”

The agreements serve as blueprints for cleanup work that could include additional pollution testing and removing or covering contaminated soil in the Willamette River. They’re a critical piece of the federal cleanup plan that’s been underway for nearly 20 years.

Caleb Shaffer, who leads the Portland Harbor Superfund Site cleanup team for EPA, said the companies that have come forward voluntarily to sign agreements are helping to make the river a healthier place.

“This cleanup is really going to reduce the health risks to people and wildlife,” he said. “The parties that stepped up really showed their commitment. ...They serve as a good example of what we can accomplish when we all move toward a common goal.”

He said the EPA is working with the remaining parties and hoping for a positive outcome.

“It can be a long, drawn-out process,” he said. “For those areas where good faith negotiations are not underway, we will consider using enforcement measures.”

Last year, four companies worked together under the banner of the “Pre-RD Group” to update pollution testing across the Superfund site. Arkema Inc., Evraz Inc., Schnitzer Steel and The Marine Group then asked the EPA to scale back its cleanup requirements in response to the lower pollution levels they found.

The EPA rejected that idea, however, and several of the companies that had worked on that report have yet to sign remedial design agreements.