The Metro Council voted unanimously Dec. 10 in support of a resolution that makes Willamette Cove eligible for funding through the 2019 parks and natural areas bond measure.
The resolution included an amendment from Councilor Sam Chase that requires Metro to convene a work session within 30 days of the Department of Environmental Quality’s record of decision on the required cleanup level for the upland portion of the site. The work session would discuss additional and voluntary actions that Metro could take. The council passed the amendment unanimously.
Metro staff will also 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.
“This is a special day and an important next step in Willamette Cove’s history,” said Chase, whose district includes Willamette Cove.
Of the approximately 20 community members who spoke at the meeting, support was unanimous for the resolution, with many speakers asking councilors to consider going beyond the resolution and commit to a cleanup level that would involve removing all the contaminated soil from Willamette Cove. 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.
“I hope Metro takes this opportunity to hear from community members that this is important to us,” said DiShaun Berry, a resident of North Portland and co-founder of Get Hooked, which aims to introduce children to fishing.
Other speakers supporting the resolution included Art McConville, a Nez Perce tribal member; geologist Alex Lopez; Elijah Cetas of the Sunrise Movement and members of the Portland Harbor Community Coalition and the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group.
“There is a huge demand for this to be a full-use recreational area,” said Scott Mizée, a resident of North Portland and board member of the 40-Mile Loop Land Trust.
The resolution clears an administrative hurdle that will 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 also affirms the council’s support to explore trail development, habitat restoration and a broad range of passive recreational activities at Willamette Cove such as hiking, picnicking and wildlife viewing.
“Restoration is complex work,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson said. “That’s why it’s taken this long to get to this point. And once we know what DEQ recommends, we can start to talk about a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the cleanup options for the site.”
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.
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. 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.
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.
“I promise you this: Whatever we do, it will be safe, it will be durable, and it will open up this site to the public as soon as possible,” Peterson said. “And those of you who testified today, I look forward to seeing you out there once we are successful.”