The Environmental Protection Agency announced a $600,000 grant Monday for Metro, Clackamas County and the City of Oregon City to partner on identifying and cleaning up polluted "brownfield" sites along a 9-mile stretch of Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard. Part of a nationwide brownfield program, the grant was one of three awarded to communities in the Portland region.
Constructed in 1932, McLoughlin Boulevard was one of Oregon's first modern highways, bringing jobs, businesses and residential development to northern Clackamas County. But the area lost business and investment beginning with the construction of Interstate highways in the 1960s, compounded by shifting regional and national economies that closed mills and other industrial businesses.
Left behind: A significant number of polluted properties along McLoughlin Boulevard and in nearby communities, ranging in size from former gas stations and spill sites to the 22-acre Blue Heron Paper Mill in Oregon City, now known as the Willamette Falls Legacy Site. These brownfields are costly to assess and even more costly to clean up, hindering efforts to revitalize the corridor.
Despite a fast-growing regional economy, the McLoughlin corridor's recovery has remained sluggish, with higher unemployment and poverty rates than the rest of the Portland region. The area also has a high concentration of brownfields. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has counted at least 80 potential polluted sites in the corridor, but other research has suggested a "shadow inventory" of potentially four times as many properties.
The new EPA grant gives hope for cleaning up these sites and creating new jobs and housing, said Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith.
"These funds will greatly benefit Clackamas County's ability to identify and eventually cleanup long-term environmental hazards and promote a safer and healthier community. Strategic partnerships like this makes it possible for us to revitalize neighborhoods and provide jobs and affordable housing," Smith said.
Metro planning and development director Elissa Gertler pointed to the corridor's significance to the region.
"A healthy McLoughlin corridor is important to the whole Portland region," Gertler said. "The corridor connects neighborhoods, businesses and the Willamette River. We are excited to work with Clackamas County and Oregon City to bring life back to areas where pollution has been a barrier to opportunity and investment."
The EPA grant will provide $600,000 to identify, assess and revitalize brownfields along McLoughlin Boulevard and in five Clackamas County communities: Milwaukie, Jennings Lodge, Oak Grove, Gladstone and Oregon City.
“This grant will help Oregon City pursue some of our biggest opportunities for development," said Oregon City senior planner Christina Robertson-Gardiner. "From the 22-acre Willamette Falls Legacy Site down to smaller individual parcels on 99E, we're excited for the chance to closely examine the corridor and understand what needs to happen to get polluted properties cleaned up and ready for jobs, businesses and housing.”
The project will begin with extensive public outreach to ask residents about brownfields which may be unrecognized on current official inventories. The final products will include updated inventory of brownfields, as many as 20 site assessments and a full cleanup plan for at least one site.
The McLoughlin corridor grant is one of 218 EPA brownfield cleanup grants in 131 communities awarded this week, totaling $55.2 million nationally. Also in the Portland region, Tigard's downtown redevelopment agency received $400,000 to clean up a former sawmill, welding shop and printing shop near Fanno Creek. The City of Portland also received $400,000 to assess four sites and prepare two cleanup plans.
“We are pleased that the EPA Brownfield grant funding will help leverage additional partners and resources to help make a visible difference in these communities,” said Sheryl Bilbrey, the EPA's regional environmental cleanup director, in a release.