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Coast Guard seeking to dredge sediment from Superfund site, dump it in river

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Julie Holmason stands on the beach behind her house off Gillihan Road, with Morgan Bar in the background. Holmason and several of her neighbors are concerned that a U.S. Coast Guard proposal to dump dredge spoils at Morgan Bar could negatively affect Sauvie Island's beaches and environment.A U.S. Coast Guard proposal to conduct “maintenance dredging” for a ship berth in a north Portland industrial site and dump the sediment offshore from Sauvie Island has some residents up in arms.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is conducting a project review for the Coast Guard, has said the planned dumping location is in a part of the Columbia River called the “flow lane,” within which the river's current should distribute the sand, silt and other sediment along the riverbed and move it downstream.

“Based on hydrosurveys of the federal navigation channel, avoiding effects to the navigation channel, and prior dredged material placement use of the Morgan Bar area, the proposed placement location can accommodate placement without subsequently impacting the federal navigation channel,” said Michelle Helms, a spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers, in an email.

But Julie Holmason, a longtime island resident who lives on Gillihan Road, and some of her neighbors are skeptical that the plan being proposed will not impact Sauvie Island's beaches.

“We're pretty disturbed about this,” she said.

Holmason provided the Spotlight with photographs she said were taken at Morgan Bar, the proposed disposal site just a few hundred feet from the Sauvie Island beachfront, of material dumped there in the 1980s that ended up washing ashore.

“The residue comes up on our beaches,” said Holmason.

The Swan Island Lagoon — where the Coast Guard keeps the buoy tender USCGC Bluebell, the berth of which it wants to dredge — is located within the Portland Harbor Superfund site, an area identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as contaminated by industrial pollution.

However, in response to a question about the toxicity of the dredge material, Helms said the Portland Sediment Evaluation Team — a collaborative group of state and federal regulatory agencies, including the Corps and the EPA — has determined it is “suitable for in-water placement.”

Holmason isn't so sure.

“They're saying it's not contaminated,” Holmason said. “But we're not stupid. It's coming from that area.”

The Corps of Engineers says that up to 1,000 cubic yards of sediments will be removed. According to Helms, an evaluation determined the sediments are about 90 percent sand and 10 percent silts and finer materials.

Manmade waste, such as garbage, will not be dumped in the river under the proposal.

“Any significant solid waste (i.e. tires, pieces of timber, etc.) encountered will be removed from the dredge scow and disposed of in a dumpster,” said Coast Guard Lt. Dana Warr in an email.

All the same, Holmason and other residents are hoping there is enough public opposition to the proposal that Morgan Bar is taken off the table as a dump site, and another location for the dredge spoils is found.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think Sauvie Island and the Columbia River should be a dumping ground for contaminated materials," island resident Megan Hallstone told KOIN 6 News, the Spotlight's news partner.

Holmason said she and other property-owners met with several of the agencies involved with the application on Wednesday, July 2. She came away from the meeting hopeful that the conversation "put a dent" in the plans, she added.

The proposal remains under review by both the Corps of Engineers and the Oregon Department of State Lands.

Melinda Butterfield, an aquatic resource coordinator with the Department of State Lands, explained that both agencies have regulatory oversight over Oregon waterways.

“To help simplify the application process, our agencies worked together to create a single application that can be sent to both agencies," she said in an email. "Both agencies independently review the application for compliance with their specific regulations.”

A public comment period for the Corps review closed Thursday, June 25, but the Department of State Lands is taking comments until Thursday, July 9. After that, Butterfield said, a decision must be made on permitting the project by Sept. 7, unless the Coast Guard requests an extension.

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