What ever happened to all the toxic waste dumped in Ross Island in the ’90s? Is it still just sitting there? If so, what’s the city’s plan for cleaning it up and making the Willamette less of a polluted mess than it is currently? —Katie Wishart
Toxic waste? What toxic waste? Say, wanna see our new park?
OK, OK—there is some toxic waste at the bottom of the Ross Island lagoon. I hit up Ye Riverkeeper, Travis Williams, for the backstory:
In the ’20s, Ross Island Sand & Gravel started harvesting gravel and sand from the bottom of the Ross Island lagoon, eventually creating a deep, underwater pit. In 1992, the Port of Portland decided this pit would be a good place to start dumping waste.
Then, in 1998, RIS&G accidentally dug up 6,300 cubic yards of said waste, convincing the Port that maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea after all, and leading to the controversy you probably remember.
In fairness to the Port, there’s toxic waste, and there’s toxic waste. What was dumped at the site by the Port of Portland in the ’90s—coal tar and paint chips—is fairly wholesome by toxic waste standards. I wouldn’t want my sister to marry it, but it probably won’t create mutant, superintelligent trout with a taste for human flesh. (At least, not very many.)
The plan for dealing with it is called “natural recovery,” which is the environmental-mitigation term of art for what you or I might call “nothing.” You dump some nice, clean dirt on top of the nasty, ugly dirt in the pit, tell everybody not to dig there anymore, and wait for nature to break down the bad stuff. It’s sort of like when you break a light bulb, sweep the shards under the rug, and crunch the bulge down with your foot: As long as nobody moves the rug, everything’s cool. Kinda.