In 2021, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued their requirements for the cleanup of Willamette Cove. The site is owned by Metro, which plans to create a nature park on the site following the cleanup. Metro and the Port of Portland (Port) are working together to design and implement a cleanup that will protect human health and the environment. DEQ set the requirements for the cleanup based on studies that indicated contaminants at levels harmful to people and plants and animals likely only went one to two feet deep.
Because of the contamination, Willamette Cove is closed to the public.
As part of the next steps in the cleanup, Metro and the Port conducted an extensive soil study in 2022. 5,130 additional soil samples were taken from the surface down to three feet below ground.
These results gave DEQ, Metro and the Port their most comprehensive look at the extent of decades-old industrial contamination at the 27-acre site. As planned, the study provided additional information that will be used to refine a clean-up plan that adheres to DEQ’s requirement to protect human health and the environment.
Results from the study were released in March 2023. Since then, the agencies and DEQ have been analyzing and reviewing this data to better understand how it will inform Willamette Cove’s upland cleanup. DEQ has final say on the details of the cleanup.
Following months of analysis of a detailed soil study, scientists from Metro and the Port who share DEQ’s goal of working to make Willamette Cove safe for people, plants and animals now have a better understanding of the decades-old industrial contamination at the North Portland site. The most important finding: The soil contamination in Willamette Cove’s upland is deeper than previously known.
What did the study find?
- No new human health hot spots (very dangerous levels of contamination) were found.
- It confirmed that contamination is spread across the site.
- It also confirmed the types of contaminants at the site.
- In general, the amount of contamination decreased with depth, as expected.
- However, in most locations, contaminants went down to at least three feet deep, which is as deep as samples were taken.
The last point was new information to Metro and the Port’s project teams.
Previous studies, DEQ’s requirements for making the site safe, and an extensive public comment period guided DEQ’s 2021 record of decision. At that time, the cleanup requirements anticipated removing soil to a depth of about two feet in some areas, and much less than that, in most areas. The record of decision expected up to approximately 42,000 cubic yards of soil would be excavated and hauled away. The new study estimates that if the same cleanup requirements were extended to remove soil down to three feet in the impacted areas, 76,000 cubic yards of soil would need to be excavated.
The new study also concludes that most trees would need to be removed with the contaminated soil. The record of decision had proposed alternative excavation techniques to save native trees, that with existing cleanup requirements would not be possible.
DEQ is now determining what this new data means for its requirements to make Willamette Cove safe. Metro and the Port are continuing the planning needed to begin that work.
Metro remains committed to consulting with the tribal governments and engaging with community members and the broader public as the project to turn Willamette Cove into a nature park continues. When the cleanup and park are finished, the entire site will be safe for people, plants and animals.