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Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde gets funds from Environmental Protection Agency

Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde's efforts to restore its Willamette Falls property in Oregon City received a significant boost from the May 11 announcement of an $800,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

2016 PMG FILE PHOTO: RAYMOND RENDLEMAN - Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission leaders tour the former Blue Heron Paper Co. mill, a site of longtime cultural importance at Willamette Falls in Oregon City.Tribal leaders applied for the EPA Brownfields Grant Program funds in October and will begin using the restoration fund this year. The tribe was the only Multipurpose Grant (MPG) Program recipient in the region.

The EPA allocates MPGs annually for high priority assessment and cleanup of contaminated properties. According to the EPA, this type of "high-priority" grant allows federal, state and tribal partners to quickly address environmental and public health concerns.

Tribal leaders say the work will begin with evaluating the property and identifying any hazardous substances from prior operations at the site, which had been home to the former Blue Heron paper mill. The grant will fund environmental testing and decommissioning of underground storage tanks and allow Grand Ronde to create plans for larger remediations that will focus on repurposing portions of the site and making preparations for demolition.

"As caretakers of the Willamette Falls area, we're thankful for the EPA and this funding," said Cheryle A. Kennedy, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. "Tending to the land by addressing the environmental remediation needs will help ensure that the Tribe's vision can be fully implemented across the site and bring people back to Willamette Falls."

Grand Ronde purchased the 23-acre site in 2019 and this March released its vision for the area proposed to include environmental restoration and mixed-use development.

Michelle Pirzadeh, the EPA's acting regional administrator based in Seattle, said the Grand Ronde funds also will be used to conduct community involvement activities, including developing a public involvement plan and planning at least five community meetings. Pirzadeh added that the federal agency's most recent round of brownfield investments in the Pacific Northwest is really all about tribal, state and local partners.

"They have enthusiastically embraced brownfields redevelopment and its positive community impact. Time and time again, we see how strong local leadership coupled with the infusion of federal funds can breathe new life into idle properties," Pirzadeh said.

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