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Settlement resolves company's liability at former St. Helens fiberboard factory

OREGON DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY - Kaiser Gypsum operations in St. Helens in 1970. Kaiser Gypsum owned the fiberboard plant from 1956 to 1978, followed by Owens Corning.Owens Corning, one of the former owners of the fiberboard manufacturing plant in St. Helens, will pay $1.5 million to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as the next step in the decades-long effort to remove contaminants from the site.

In a consent judgement approved earlier this week by Columbia Circuit Court Judge Ted Grove, Owens Corning agreed to pay the $1.5 million within 45 days. The money will be used by DEQ for "performing or paying for investigation, removal, remedial actions and assessment and/or repair of Natural Resource Damages" at the site.

DEQ began investigations into the property in 2001, ultimately finding 15 "contaminants of concern" on the site, including arsenic and dioxin/furans.

The property consists of roughly 38 developed acres and 100 acres of wetland next to Scappoose Bay, according to DEQ documents. For almost a century, the facility operated as a fiberboard plant. Owens Corning operated the plant for only a few of those years, from 1978 to 1981.

Under another proposed settlement announced at the same time, Armstrong World Industries, the most recent factory operator, would pay DEQ $8.6 million and carry out DEQ's proposed cleanup for the developed portion of the site.

In 2002, Owens Corning was ordered to pay DEQ $900,000, resolving the company's liability for a defined portion of the site. In 2010, Owens Corning and other previous property owners agreed to work with DEQ on investigating the state of the site. Owens Corning only contributed to the investigations outside the land involved in the 2002 agreement.

The settlements with Owens Corning and Armstrong, which were proposed and opened for public comment in early 2018, received a handful of responses.

"These companies have had the best of both worlds and it's time for the companies to be held accountable for their actions," Columbia County resident Tammy Maygra wrote in 2018. "The easy cop out for filing bankruptcy is not an excuse for them not to pay for their pollution. They need to take responsibility for their actions."

Kaiser Gypsum, which owned the property from 1956 to 1978, will pay far more to DEQ. Under a proposed settlement, Kaiser Gypsum would pay DEQ $67 million. Kaiser Gypsum filed for bankruptcy in 2016, which means the settlement has to be approved by the bankruptcy court as part of the company's plan to resolve debts. The $67 million, despite being the largest settlement for a single site clean-up in Oregon DEQ history, is not expected to cover the costs of the cleanup.


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