For 15 years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to come up with a plan to clean up the Willamette River in Portland. It’s time that we actually get the work started. Oregonians need a cleanup that protects our public health and supports recreation, wildlife habitat and jobs.
The EPA declared a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River, known as the Portland Harbor, a Superfund site in 2000. The Portland Harbor starts near the Fremont Bridge and runs north to near the Columbia River. The harbor serves as Portland’s working waterfront with a deep-water shipping channel served by surrounding warehouses, marine terminals and industrial parks. The Portland Harbor is home to historic contamination dating back more than 100 years from sources including agricultural and urban development, US war-time activities, industrial activities, sewer discharges and stormwater overflows1Port of Portland, “Portland Harbor Superfund Site: Who Pays?” January 2016.
The best plan to clean up the Willamette River is one that protects public health, improves recreation and restores wildlife habitat.
A clean and healthy Willamette River is the pride of Portlanders. Recreation connects city residents and tourists to the river through fishing, canoeing and sightseeing in city parks2Benenson Strategy Group survey, March 22-24, 2016. The 10-mile stretch of the Portland Harbor includes two city parks, two boat ramps and one fishing dock3City of Portland, Willamette River Recreation Strategy, 2012.
Cleanup costs must be carefully managed to minimize impact on Portland-area families and small, local businesses that call the harbor home.
The harbor is home for small businesses that produce flour, import farm supplies and export grain. Large international corporations that also work in the harbor won’t pay most of the costs just because they have deep pockets4Port of Portland, “Portland Harbor Superfund Site: Who Pays?” May 2016. By law, the costs have to be distributed – every business, land owner and utility will pay their share. The higher the cleanup cost, the greater the burden paid by small businesses, taxpayers and utility ratepayers. Even though many of these companies didn’t exist when the pollution happened decades ago, they’re still responsible as “Potentially Responsible Parties5Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group, “List of Potentially Responsible Parties”.”
We must clean up the River without disruption to our local economy and the 30,000 people whose living-wage jobs depend on the harbor.
Those workers earn an average of $51,000, pumping $1.5 billion in wages6Port of Portland, “Economic Impact of Portland Working Harbor 2015,” May 2016 into our economy annually. Each year the cleanup is underway, Multnomah County will lose 900 jobs7The Brattle Group, “Economic Impacts of Remediating the Portland Harbor Superfund Site, January 3, 2012. An expensive cleanup would also hamper public and private investments in the harbor in the last six years. Since 2010, grain exporters, ship builders and public agencies have spent more than $200 million on rail lines, equipment and docks8EcoNorthest, “Impacts of Channel Deepening on the Columbia River.” June 2015.
Bureaucrats in Washington and Seattle have spent more than a decade dictating what’s best for our river in Portland.
Federal regulators have been leading this project since 2000 yet the cleanup still lacks any consensus. All of the potential cleanup options lead to the same conclusion – a cleaner river. We need a locally driven solution so we can get the work started quickly.
Portland residents face rising cost-of-living for housing, groceries and utilities. Because the City of Portland and local utilities are potentially responsible for cleanup costs, an expensive cleanup would also mean even higher living expenses for all Portlanders.
Portland voters say the top problems facing the city are homelessness, affordable housing, transportation, education and jobs9Benenson Strategy Group survey, March 22-24, 2016. Portland’s home prices are among the fastest-growing in the country10The Oregonian, “Portland has nation's highest year-over-year home price increases,” jan. 26, 2016, and Portlanders already pay one of the highest wastewater rates in America. An expensive river cleanup would force utilities to pass the costs on to consumers, leading to even higher rates.
“I support a clean Willamette River, and I am for a plan that’s good for our economy. For the last 26 years, my company, my job and my family have depended upon the harbor for work. I hope the EPA cleanup is affordable so it doesn’t harm jobs like mine.”
Oregon State Building & Construction Trades Council
“The river cleanup should be sustainable for the river and our harbor industries. If the EPA plan prices out small businesses, Portland will lose family-wage jobs, future investment and construction wages. The cleanup has to be healthy for the river and healthy for workers and families, too.”
Portland Harbor Voter Attitudes Survey SummaryPDF Format (153 KB)
Economic Impact of Portland Working HarborPDF Format (476 KB)
International Trade & The Portland Harbor’s Impact on the Portland-metro and Oregon economyPDF Format (1.3 MB)
Brattle Group Portland Harbor Cleanup Economic ImpactPDF Format (2.4 MB)