Who should pay to clean up contaminated shipyard?

The Astoria shipyard is one of thousands of contaminated sites in the Northwest

A contaminated site in Astoria
Astoria Marine Construction Company (Courtesy DEQ)

ASTORIA, Ore. (KOIN) — KOIN 6 News has reported on thousands of contaminated sites across the Northwest. Many are in the process of being cleaned up but many others are in limbo. The shipyard at the Astoria Marine Construction Company is one of those sites.

The history of the shipyard goes back to the 1920s.

How to comment on the DEQ plan to cleanup the Astoria shipyard

“It was the primary shipyard for building minesweepers during World War II and Korean Conflict on the west coast,” says Carson Bowler, the attorney for the current property owner.

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency drilled down and discovered contamination in the shipyard’s soil and in the sediment in the Lewis and Clark River, which flows into the Columbia.

The EPA wanted the site on its Superfund list, but local leaders, the landowner and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality came up with a plan to keep the land out of federal hands.

A vintage picture of the Astoria Marine Construction Company (Courtesy DEQ)
A vintage picture of the Astoria Marine Construction Company (Courtesy DEQ)

“DEQ is a little more nimble and able to work on the site in a more time efficient manner, and get things done,” says DEQ Project Manager Bob Williams. “It’s a fairly difficult thing to clean up.”

Cleanup and restoration will cost between $3 and $4 million. The current owner doesn’t have that kind of money, but Bowler says he found old insurance policies.

“You can understand insurance companies don’t want to pay on 1950s policies because they’re not getting money back on them, but it’s the law that they at least respond, so it has been a difficult process, but they have been cooperative,” Bowler says.

On the downside, cleanup means the shipyard will go out of business and Astoria will no longer have a shipyard for big boats.

A map of the Astoria Marine Construction Company (Courtesy DEQ)
A site map of the Astoria Marine Construction Company (Courtesy DEQ)

“The notion that the polluter pays for these problems is a fiction, because the polluter is often gone,” Bowler tells KOIN 6 News. “They’re out of business or gone, so who’s left to pay for it are the current businesses. That’s one of the big missing pieces in trying to allocate blame.”

Who should pay to cleanup the site? The DEQ is asking the public to weigh in. The deadline for public comment is Monday. If insurance doesn’t cover the full cost of cleanup, the DEQ will have to dip into its orphan fund site.

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