Council to consider major Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup work
The City Council added Prosper Portland to those agencies paying for the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup project on Wednesday, Dec. 2.
The ordinance requiring the former Portland Development Commission to begin making annual payments was approved without discussion or public testimony.
The addition came a week before the council was set to approve the city's ninth agreement to help fund remedial cleanup designs at various locations within the Superfund site. The council is scheduled to vote on a settlment with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to contribute $3.6 million to the cleanup design of the Swan Island Basin Area, one of the largest and most complex sites in the harbor, on Wednesday, Dec. 9.
Total cleanup design costs are expected to be between $40 million and $50 million at the site. Other contibutions are coming from the Port of Portland, the State of Oregon, Vigor Industrial and Daimler Trucks North America.
The Bureau of Environmental Services so far has paid most of the city's costs for the cleanup project. To date, the sewer fund has paid more than $62 million in cleanup-related costs — more than $50 million for investigating the pollution in the harbor and most of the little more than $9 million the city ended up continuting to a joint fund with the state of Oregon to encourage other polluters to develop their own cleanup plans.
The Portland Water Bureau, Portland Bureau of Transportation, and the general fund have contributed to some of the work, too. For example, in this year's budget, the Portland Water Bureau paid $455,750, the Portland Bureau of Transportation paid nearly $1.5 million and the general fund paid just over $1 million. The environmental services bureau also paid an additional $1.319 million in cleanup costs.
Prosper Portland is now making payments because it acquired properties in the past that contributed to the harbor pollution, including the former rail yard that was developed as the Pearl District. According to the ordinance, it will fund 8% of the city's remedial cleanup design costs. This year's payment is $729,200. Such payments are expected to continue through at least the fiscal year 2024-25 budget.
Portland utility ratepayers have sued the city in Multnomah County Circuit Court to require the other bureaus pay the sewer fund back for their shares of the cleanup costs. A summary judgment hearing is scheduled for May 18, 2021, and a two-day trial is set to begin on July 14, 2021.
Although city officials have said the sewer fund will be reimbursed, no payment schedule has been announced. The city's final cleanup costs will not been known for several years.
"That is ridiculous. If they can apportion responsibility moving forward with a remedial action, why can't they use the same ratios for the prior investigation costs," said John DiLorenzo, the attorney representing the ratepayers who sued the city.
The agreement requires Prosper Portland to make payments to the Citywide Obligations Reserve Fund. It was created by the council to help pay the city's long-term debts on Dec. 18, 2019. Other potential uses include the Columbia River levy upgrade project.
The Portland Harbor Superfund Site is an 11-mile stretch of the Willamette River through much of Portland. The cleanup plan was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2016. It is estimated to cost up to $3 billion and could take as long as 20 years to complete. The project will be paid for by harbor-related companies and others that potentially contributed to the pollution, including the city and state.
The city funds are going for cleanup planning work at Superfund multiple sites and the Information Management Plan meant to help manage the cleanup.
The ordinance considered by the council on Dec. 2 can be found here.
The ordinance to be considered on Dec. 9 can be found here.
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