Oregon Department of State Lands contributes new money to study lagoon repurposing (Stay connected to your local news! Get digital access today:

COURTESY OF THE CITY OF ST. HELENS - The city of St. Helens has been pursuing the concept of re-purposing its secondary wastewater lagoon for several years,, and has recently received funding from various agencies to pursue a feasibility study for turning the lagoon into a solid waste landfill.UPDATED: The city of St. Helens has received additional funding to pursue a feasibility study on re-purposing its secondary wastewater lagoon into a solid waste landfill.

The Oregon Department of State Lands will provide $500,000 to the city to help pay for the feasibility study.

The city of St. Helens signed an intergovernmental agreement with DSL last month which has agreed to contribute finances to the study from its Portland Harbor Cleanup Fund.

The agreement, which was signed by St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh and DSL Deputy Director Jean Straight in early January, went before the St. Helens City Council last month for approval. Jim McKenna of the Governor's Natural Resources Office is listed as project manager on the project.

Kate Kondayen, press secretary for Gov. Kate Brown's office, noted why the state has financed the feasibility study.

"The State of Oregon supports the City's Feasibility Study because this work will help answer key questions raised by the community, or anticipated to be raised by the community, such as whether the landfill will include liners to protect groundwater, whether it will be designed to withstand a Cascadia earthquake, and if management of contaminated sediments at and near the landfill pose adverse risk to the local community. These and other questions are part of the Feasibility Study," Kondayen stated.

The state's funding commitment comes several months after the city of St. Helens received a $100,000 grant from Oregon Business Development Department in November. The OBDD grant money will specifically be used to to pay for the development of planning materials and public outreach, according to grant documents.

The $500,000 will largely cover the technical aspect of the project, and a draft version of the project's scope of work for the project was submitted to the state last week, Walsh explained.

In 2017, the city requested nearly $1.54 million from the state Legislature to pursue not only the feasibility study, but also a preliminary permit approval for a solid waste landfill. The request, sponsored by Sen. Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, passed in the House and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee, but did not make it's way into the state budget.

Since then, the city has scaled back its plans, Walsh explained, and is now hoping to address the feasibility study incrementally as funding becomes available. That approach also gives the city time to gather community feedback.

"We've done a fair amount of work and this will further the study," Walsh said.

The city pitched the concept of re-purposing the wastewater lagoon in 2016 by partially or completely filling it with sediment from three different locations, including an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site in the Portland Harbor, Lower Willamette River channel deepening projects, and other brownfield sites.

Filling the lagoon could generate between $56 million and $137 million for the city, state Legislature.

"The State is neutral on whether the City should or should not build this landfill, as it's more the role of the City to work with the community to decide whether to build it," Kondayen stated. "If built, the landfill it would provide the lowest cost option for disposal of Portland Harbor sediments. This could result in multi-million-dollar savings for the State and other potential responsible parties."

Walsh explained that pursuing the lagoon's re-purposing encompasses several facets. The lagoon was used by Boise Cascades for decades for paper production, and since that time there hasn't been much site characterization of the lagoon today, he explained.

Additionally, if the lagoon can be turned into a solid waste landfill, the city can move it away from waterfront property, yielding more usable waterfront land.

"There's a lot of good public benefit with the reuse of the land — public amenities, 50 acres of new waterfront — it could be fantastic for community long term," Walsh said. "Focusing on the outcome rather than the process."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the names of individuals involved in signing the agreement between the city and the DSL, and the individuals involved in project management. The Spotlight regrets the error.

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