The Metro Council is scheduled to consider a resolution at its Dec. 10 meeting that would make Willamette Cove eligible for funding through the 2019 parks and natural areas bond measure.
Community members and tribal government representatives have told Metro councilors over the years about the importance of Willamette Cove to them. The resolution would clear an administrative hurdle that would allow Willamette Cove to be eligible for potential funding through the “taking care of Metro parks” program area, a $98 million bucket within the overall $475 million bond measure. The resolution would also affirm the council’s support to explore trail development, habitat restoration and a broad range of passive recreational activities at Willamette Cove.
The resolution, if approved, would also direct Metro staff to develop a plan to identify community priorities for passive recreational opportunities and trails in line with the protection and restoration of natural resources at Willamette Cove.
“We’ve heard from community members that this site is important to them,” said Katy Weil, a senior natural resource scientist for Metro. “This resolution would allow Metro to engage with community and partners within the larger context of the Willamette River and the City of Portland.”
Metro purchased the Willamette Cove property in the St. Johns and Cathedral Park neighborhoods of North Portland 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 redevelop the 27-acre site into an urban natural area and 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.
Oregon Health Authority recommended the site be closed for public health and safety since 2013 because of contamination and physical hazards.
Since 2001, Metro has worked with the Port of Portland, a former owner of a portion of the site, to determine the level of contamination and possible cleanup options.
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.
And 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.
Investigation and cleanup for 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. DEQ is scheduled to issue a decision in the coming months about the cleanup level needed for the upland portion of the site following a community engagement process last summer.
Cleanup options being considered by DEQ range from removing all the contaminated soil to more of a hybrid approach, where the worst of the contamination would be removed and the rest would be consolidated in one or two areas and capped with clean soil. This would be monitored to protect the public and wildlife from pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency has oversight from the top of the riverbank and into the river. Landowners of this portion include Metro and the Oregon Department of State Lands. The City of Portland and partners have started a separate community engagement process, which will help determine the design for the cleanup of the in-water area of Willamette Cove.
“We’re committed to working with our partners at the Port of Portland to clean up the site to DEQ’s standards,” said Weil. “After that, we will begin the design process to carry out the cleanup. Community participation in this effort will be very important here.”