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DEQ negotiations drag on over contaminated former Pope & Talbot wood treatment site

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Gates and No Trespassing signs shroud an old railroad corridor site in St. Helens. The state considers the site contaminated. A years-long attempt to clean up an abandoned St. Helens industrial site just got slightly more expensive for the Port of Columbia County.

Port commissioners begrudgingly agreed to spend an additional $24,800 for a change order in an ongoing contract with Cascadia Associates LLC. Cascadia Associates is the company assisting the port in ongoing negotiations with the state Department of Environmental Quality for cleaning up the brownfield site at 1550 Railroad Ave. in St. Helens.

The site was formerly occupied by Niedermeyer-Martin Company and Pope & Talbot for wood treating operations. Pope & Talbot declared bankruptcy in 2007.

Since the port became aware of contamination issues at the site in in the 1990s, it has engaged in millions of dollars of remediation work to address creosote contamination. DEQ officials say they found more contamination in a nearby waterway that flows into Scappoose Bay and Milton Creek during a recent site visit.

"DEQ has requested additional site inspection for sheens observed in surface sediment during a recent site visit," port documents indicate.

"We want to make sure everything that needs to be investigated is investigated," Paula Miranda, deputy executive director at the port, said Wednesday, Nov. 14, during a board meeting. "But at the same time, we really want to move forward with this project."

DEQ reports indicate the site has shown soil and water contamination from several sampling periods since the late 1990s due to its past use as a wood treating facility and leaks from underground storage tanks.

"Results of the sampling showed significant contamination of subsurface soils and sediment with polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the primary constituents of creosote," an environmental clean-up report from DEQ states. "Pentachlorophenol, arsenic, and other metals were also found in subsurface soils at elevated levels."

While port commissioners don't dispute the site's needs for environmental clean-up, they expressed frustration during a board discussion and vote Wednesday, Nov. 14, noting the port's long history of sinking money into the site.

"This is a $5.6 million lesson for 23 years," Commissioner Mike Avent noted.

Commissioner Patrick Trapp, who also previously served as executive director of the port, said the port has also been stalled by staffing changes at DEQ, which seem to slow or even restart the review process each time someone new takes the case.

"It feels like we're paying to train new people" another commissioner added.

Jennifer Purcell, a regional solutions liaison for DEQ, assured port staff and commissioners that progress is being made on the site.

"It's not uncommon for these processes to take decades," Purcell noted.

Commissioner Robert Keyser said the port was likely to spend more money fighting DEQ than just moving on with negotiations.

"Bottom line is we have a $24,000 expense here and I don't see any other path, other than trying to fight the DEQ's decision, and we don't even have anything to fight yet," Keyser said before a unanimous board vote to appr-

ove the expenditure with Cascadia.

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