EPA delays signing Portland Superfund agreement

Two week postponement

An aerial view of the Portland Superfund site, June 8, 2016 (KOIN)
An aerial view of the Portland Superfund site, June 8, 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will delay signing a controversial agreement with a number of Portland Harbor Superfund polluters for two weeks to hear concerns from Oregon, Portland and tribal officials.

The EPA had notified the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that it was preparing to sign the agreement for baseline testing with the unidentified polluters as soon as today, Oct. 10. But, after receiving letters from state, city and tribal officials, EPA officials agreed to meet with their representatives today instead.

According to DEQ Northwest Region Cleanup Program Manager Kevin Parrett, EPA officials apologized for not consulting with earlier and promised to dealy the decision on signing the agreement for two weeks at the meeting. The polluters, officially known as Potentially Responsible Parties, were not identified because of confidentality agreements covering the cleanup plan.

“It’s good news,” Parrett told the Portland Tribune after the meeting.

The state, city and tribal officials said the agreement could reverse progress toward cleaning up toxic pollution in the Willamette River. They had all sent letters to the EPA saying the agreement apparently would require redoing complicated environmental studies and investigations, which would delay a process that already has taken more than 16 years. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation even requested a formal dispute resolution process to resolve the issue, as authorized by the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the EPA and the parties with longstanding interests in the site.

Just before President Trump took office this year, the EPA released a plan calling for a $1 billion cleanup involving dredging and covering contaminated soil along a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River known as the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown released a statement Monday morning calling the proposed agreement “a significant setback” to those cleanup plans that could have impacts on Oregon’s economy and the long-term health of the environment.

“We must move forward with the cleanup of the Portland Harbor, but the federal administration’s latest direction to the EPA undermines the progress we’ve made,” she said. “I urge the EPA to honor its commitment to work collaboratively and transparently with the state, city and all responsible parties that have long worked toward a thorough and cost-effective cleanup of the Portland Harbor.”

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.