The Oregon Senate voted 26-2 to approve a brownfield cleanup bill Tuesday, sending it to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.
Sens. Kim Thatcher, R-Salem, and Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, cast the dissenting votes against House Bill 2734, which would allow local governments to create "land bank authorities," regional service districts that could clean up brownfields.
The bill is backed by a coalition, convened by Metro, of more than 40 local governments, business associations and community organizations from across Oregon.
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The system allows sites like abandoned gas stations, dry cleaners and factories to be cleaned of toxins, while shielding local governments from liability. Many of those sites are derelict, with the private sector having little incentive to clean them up.
Local governments have historically been reluctant to step in because of the liability issue – if they owned the site, someone could potentially sue a city or county for environmental or physical harm caused by historic pollution.
Once established by local governments, the land bank authority would keep those governments' general funds shielded from liability. The legislation exempts the land bank itself from liability for pre-existing contamination, enabling it to focus resources on cleanup of contaminated properties.
The bill is part of a broader effort to address the 13,000-plus brownfields in Oregon, more than 2,000 of which are in the Portland region.
"A lot of groups have finally come to agreement that this is something we need to do and take care of," said Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay. "This is one more tool for local governments to take care of it."