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The San Francisco Chronicle

Portland harbor joins Superfund

Associated Press

Friday, December 1, 2000

A dirty, six-mile stretch of the lower Willamette River will be placed on the nation's Superfund list of most polluted sites today, federal authorities say.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials expect to notify more than 60 landowners and companies along the Portland harbor that they could be responsible for the pollution and its cleanup costs.

The harbor's listing had been expected for months. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber agreed to it in July after a yearlong effort to head off the listing with a state-led plan failed.

Two other Northwest sites -- Taylor Lumber & Treating in Sheridan and the Duwamish River in Seattle and -- will be proposed as Superfund sites, agency officials said.

The Portland harbor listing signals the beginning of a massive cleanup that likely will take years and cost millions of dollars.

It makes available Superfund's $1.4 billion trust fund and a powerful 20-year-old federal law that gives the EPA wide authority to pursue the parties responsible for pollution.

Scientists in 1997 found elevated levels of tars, pesticides, tins, polychlorinated biphenyls and metals in river sediments between Sauvie Island and Swan Island, federal officials said.

The EPA's listing sets no boundary for the site, and it could expand outside the six-mile stretch of the harbor.

John Malek, a sediments specialist in EPA's Seattle office, has said the agency will ask landowners that are responsible for cleanup costs to look for contamination sources upstream and downstream of the harbor.

``We want them, up front, to be looking more broadly than those six miles,'' Malek said earlier this year.

Trey Harbert, project manager for the Port of Portland, said at least a dozen harbor landowners have met and are eager to begin working out an agreement. The Port is the largest landowner in the harbor.

Several owners, including Union Pacific Railroad and Marine Finance Corp., have declined to sign agreements. DEQ officials said they are using public money to investigate contamination at those sites

Federal officials said they hope those parties organize and approach the EPA to begin formal negotiations by January.

Although state and federal officials say they are working to define their roles, the EPA says for now it expects to oversee cleanup in the river. The state Department of Environmental Quality will oversee pollution control along the riverbanks, which will be key to preventing recontamination.

EPA also plans to sign agreements with six Washington and Oregon tribes outlining their roles in cleanup decisions. The tribes sought such assurances from EPA officials in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.

Since 1989, public and private parties have spent more than $56 million cleaning up industrial sites along the harbor, according to figures from federal, state and local agencies involved in those cleanups.

That includes the estimated $46 million cost of two small Superfund site cleanups already under way within the harbor: the McCormick & Baxter creosote-treating plant and the former Gould battery recycling plant. Both are nearing completion.

The $56 million estimate does not include much of the costs to nearly 50 private landowners of the cleanups overseen by DEQ, which could be in the millions.

EPA officials say investigations at Taylor Lumber & Treating in Sheridan have found arsenic, pentachlorophenol and creosote in the site's soil, in ground water and in the river.

The contamination poses threats to Sheridan's water supply and the river's threatened steelhead and coho salmon runs, officials said.


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