On June 28, the Metro Council was presented updated analysis and estimated costs for the upland cleanup at Willamette Cove, a Metro property in North Portland. At the end of July, the Council will decide whether moderately contaminated soils will remain on the site or will be removed to a permitted offsite location.
Additionally, a detailed soil study involving thousands of samples will soon be underway. This study, along with past site studies, will help plan the future upland cleanup. The site is currently closed because of the long-term dangers of exposure to contaminants.
After Willamette Cove’s upland is cleaned, the entire site will be safe for people to visit and safe for plants and wildlife. Cleanup of the portion of Willamette Cove below the riverbank is being designed by State of Oregon, City of Portland and the Port of Portland under the oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last year, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) selected the cleanup remedy for the upland contamination at Willamette Cove. In addition to the DEQ’s selected remedy, which will be carried out by the Port of Portland and Metro, they added an option for additional clean up work to be done by Metro. In both cleanup plans, highly contaminated soil will be hauled off-site to a permitted waste facility.
For the first cleanup option, the Port and Metro will remove the highly contaminated soil and transfer it off site. The moderately contaminated soil will be collected into an engineered consolidation area on the site which is covered with a heavy fabric that holds the soil in place. At least three feet of clean soil will be laid over are to create a protective cap. Under the DEQ selected remedy, this “consolidation area” would be engineered to withstand natural events such as extreme storms, flooding and earthquakes, and will require long-term monitoring, inspection and maintenance plans. This is a common method of cleaning sites and has been used on other projects within the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.
For the second option, the moderately contaminated soil will be hauled away along with the highly contaminated soil and placed offsite in a permitted solid waste facility. When DEQ sought public, community members and conservation organizations made it clear this was the cleanup they wanted.
Since DEQ issued its upland cleanup requirements, Metro has heard from community members and partners including the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation who support the second clean up option. Reasons shared with Metro have included a desire to see the contaminated soil removed and concerns regarding the long-term integrity of a containment cell when considering flooding, seismic and climate change risks, among others. Since last fall, Metro has engaged with the tribes involved in the broader Portland Harbor Superfund Site and shared their input with Metro Council during the June 28 work session.
Last April, Metro Council directed staff to seek a third-party review of the optional remedy and in December, they adopted values to guide the review. Along with a new financial analysis, Council values included a review of the community impacts, environmental impacts and timeliness of the options.
The third party review estimated that collecting and capping the soil would cost $9.5 million (an increase of about $1.4 million over earlier estimates by Metro and the Port cited in DEQ’s record of decision). The offsite removal option would cost $17.5 million (up from the earlier $11.8 million estimate)
The jumps in the price estimate are due mainly to fuel costs and labor costs, which affect the full removal more because it will require hundreds more truck trips to waste facilities.
However, both numbers are far from final, and are preliminary planning estimates only. Much more information, engineering designs, and logistics and equipment planning are needed to design the project before the costs of either cleanup option can be relied upon.
One of those data sets is being created now.
A months-long upland soil sampling project is about to begin at Willamette Cove. The project will show how deep industrial contaminants go across the site. The project kicked off with a community event at a field overlooking Willamette Cove. About 75 community members, most from the surrounding neighborhood, came to learn more about the cleanup and the sampling work.
Metro and the Port of Portland have done upland soil sampling at Willamette Cove going back to the early 2000s. Past sampling led to removal of soil with high metal concentrations and soil that was at hot spot levels, which are extremely dangerous to people.
Through these earlier cleanups and soil studies, the Port and Metro have a general understanding of where contamination is across the site. So why another study?
Imagine someone spilled milk on a carpet and you had to clean it. You would first want to know where the main spill was and where there were dribbles and splashes. That’s the past soil studies—and the removals conducted to get at the more obvious or pressing needs. Now you know where you need to clean. But you still need to know how deep the milk goes and how much needs to be removed. This info will help you pick the best method to clean it up. The study underway now, if we were using it to check a carpet for milk, would tell us if it’s just the top of the carpet or if it goes into the padding or even the subfloor, which tells us how big a job it’s going to be.
The sampling starts by dividing cove into a grid. In these grid units, several methods will be used to gather accurate data about each unit’s soil and contaminants. Drills and other tools will be used to collect soil samples from various depths, taking care to not mix soil from the various levels. Through this study Metro and the Port will discover, with much greater precision, how much contamination there is and how deep it goes.
No matter which cleanup option the Metro Council chooses, project managers will need the information from this upland soil study to design a cleanup that meets the requirements of DEQ, and makes Willamette Cove safe for people, plants and animals.