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Proposed decision to help clear the way to cleanup the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Portland Harbor Superfund site is a 10-mile stretch of the lower Willamette River in the city.Portland has spent $12 million during the past 20 years to prevent polluted stormwater from reaching the Willamette River through its sewer system. The work included investigating 39 stormwater basins for potential sources of pollution and establishing measures to control its release into the river through the city's outfalls.

Now Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality is seeking public comments on its pending decision that the work has been successful. The DEQ proposes to declare that the measures to control discharges will protect life in the river and not compromise the planned cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund site.

"DEQ has released for public comment a determination that the city of Portland adequately investigated sources of potential stormwater pollution and facilitated effective pollution reduction controls to protect the river," said DEQ Public Affairs Specialist Lauren Wirtis. "This means the river will continue becoming cleaner and safer for fish and other aquatic life, and helps ensure it will not become re-contaminated after cleanup work has begun."

Comments are due by 5 p.m. on May 29. You can find the request for comments here. You can send comments to DEQ Project Manager Alex Liverman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or at 700 N.E. Multnomah St., Suite 600, Portland 97232.

DEQ has never believed the system was a significant source of the industrial pollution that prompted the EPA to declare the 10-mile stretch of the lower Willamette River in Portland a Superfund site, said DEQ Project Manager Alex Liverman. Most of that pollution is believed to have come directly from hundreds of industrial businesses that operated in the harbor, many of which discharged wastes directly into the river for many years.

But, Liverman said, previous Superfund cleanups have been compromised by ongoing sewer discharges in other cities, prompting the DEQ and EPA to be extra cautious in Portland.

An effective strategy

The DEQ released a report that includes a history of the stormwater strategy in March. It said the Portland Harbor was added to the National Priorities List as a Superfund Site due to unacceptable levels of contamination in sediment in December 2000. The next February, a memorandum of understanding was signed to provide a framework for cooperation in the investigation and cleanup of the site that would optimize federal, state, tribal and trustee expertise and available resources. The EPA was designated as the lead agency for investigating and cleaning up contamination in the river sediment. The DEQ was designated as the lead agency for identifying and controlling upland sources of pollution adjacent to or near the river.

The DEQ and the EPA jointly developed a mutually acceptable source control strategy, which was finalized in December 2005. It included having Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services identify and eliminate potential sources of pollution into the sewer system it operate that discharges into the Willamette River. Costs inlcuded source control investigations, controls put in place to address contamination, monitoring the results, staff time, attorney time, outside consultants and DEQ oversight costs, according to BES Environmental Policy Manager Annie Von Burg.

The March DEQ report concludes the strategy has been effective. "The evaluation confirms that DEQ's source control programs are effective, contaminant concentrations and loads in stormwater discharged into Portland Harbor have been significantly reduced and large-scale threat of sediment recontamination via stormwater following cleanup is improbable," according to the report.

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