Following a six-month comment period, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has selected a cleanup plan for the upland portion of Willamette Cove.
Once complete, the cleanup will allow visitors to safely access the entire upland portion of Willamette Cove, a 27-acre Metro natural area in North Portland. All soil that’s contaminated above DEQ-defined “hot-spot levels” for human health will be removed, as will all soil with metals higher than hot-spot levels for plants and animals. DEQ has mandated that the remaining contaminated soil above screening levels for human health will be consolidated on-site in a large underground container called an engineered cap. The entire site will be covered with at least one foot of clean topsoil and replanted with native plants. The area will be monitored after the cleanup to protect the public and wildlife.
“We look forward to working with our partners on these cleanup efforts,” said Paul Slyman, Metro’s project manager for Willamette Cove. “Now that we have DEQ’s decision we can begin to determine the best way to make Willamette Cove a safe, welcoming place for the public.”
DEQ’s plan includes an option that allows Metro to potentially move more contaminated material off-site and shrink the consolidation area. In accordance with a resolution passed late last year, the Metro Council will convene a work session within 30 days to begin discussing the cleanup. The resolution also made Willamette Cove eligible for potential funding through the 2019 parks and natural areas bond measure.
Metro purchased the Willamette Cove property in the St. Johns and Cathedral Park neighborhoods in 1996 using money from the 1995 natural areas bond measure after receiving a report that there were no unacceptable risks to human or ecological health. Plans to extend the North Portland Greenway Trail were stalled when high levels of contamination were found throughout the site in the late 1990s. The focus, instead, shifted to cleanup efforts.
Investigation and cleanup of the site are overseen by two agencies: the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. DEQ has oversight from the top of the riverbank into the upland area. The Environmental Protection Agency has oversight from the top of the riverbank and into the river. Metro and the Port of Portland have worked with DEQ under a voluntary cleanup agreement for the past 20 years.
Following the work session, DEQ will coordinate with Metro and the Port of Portland to conduct the cleanup. Next steps in preparation for cleanup action include a final, large-scale soil sample collection effort to confirm the depth of excavation necessary to achieve cleanup goals, anticipated to be completed by summer of 2022. DEQ will also use this data to develop final plans for soil containment and off-site disposal.
Timing for planning and completing the cleanup of the upland portion of Willamette Cove is also tied to the Portland Harbor in-water cleanup work, led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Community members and tribal government representatives have told Metro councilors over the years about the importance of Willamette Cove to them.
Later this year, Metro staff members will begin work on a community engagement plan to identify priorities for passive recreational opportunities and trails in line with the protection and restoration of natural resources at Willamette Cove. Metro is also participating in the Willamette Cove Workgroup, a collaborative of community members, stakeholders and government agencies involved in the upland and in-water Willamette Cove cleanup projects.
Metro has worked with partners over the years on several cleanup efforts, including in summer 2004 when a cap was constructed in a portion of Willamette Cove in response to contamination from a neighboring site. In 2008, soils with high metal concentrations were removed from the central portion of the site.
Oregon Health Authority recommended the site be closed for public health and safety since 2013 because of contamination and physical hazards.
In 2015 and 2016, soils with the highest levels of contamination were removed from the upland areas and replanted with native vegetation. But contamination still remains throughout the site and in the river that pose risks to human health and the environment.
“Willamette Cove is a complicated site,” Slyman said. “It will take a lot of planning and collaboration with other agencies to reach our goals, but we’ve heard from community members that this is important to them and we’re eager to continue this work.”