Companies expected to pay for a Superfund cleanup of the Portland Harbor met this morning in Portland with an all-star summit—four members of Oregon's U.S. Congressional delegation, Mayor Charlie Hales and staff from the Environmental Protection Agency—to hammer out a deal for cleaning Willamette River sediment.
But those companies are bridling at a $125,500 fine the EPA issued last month over their studies of how dangerous the river is.
As WW reported this morning, Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, all Democrats, have complained to EPA officials about the fine. It was levied against Lower Willamette Group—a coalition of 12 harbor businesses, plus the city of Portland and the Port of Portland—for providing reports of “unacceptable quality” about the contamination of Willamette River fish.
And WW has now obtained a letter that shows Lower Willamette Group formally asking EPA officials to drop the fine.
The letter, penned by Lower Willamette Group Chair Bob Wyatt on April 29, argues that the majority of the Human Health Risk Assessment was accurate, that Lower Willamette Group changed the parts the EPA didn't approve, and that, if the fine is issued, the companies will have to negotiate among themselves and other companies about who pays it.
EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre says the government will think about it.
"We are currently considering that request," MacIntyre says.
Lower Willamette Group spokeswoman Barbara Smith says it's time to move on from assessing blame for study slowdowns.
"The thing about the fine is, not a dime of that money goes into the river," Smith says. "We have spent 13 years and $100 million studying the river. It is definitely time to get to a cleaning plan."
But Travis Williams, head of the environmental group Willamette Riverkeeper, says the EPA has been spurring members of the Lower Willamette Group to stop dragging their feet on creating a cleanup plan that could cost them as much as $2.2 billion.
"It would be great if the LWG would disengage from fighting the EPA in this cleanup," says Williams, "and instead dedicate its full effort to removing contaminated sediment from the Willamette."
Both Blumenauer and Merkley attended this morning's Superfund meeting, along with U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader and Suzanne Bonamicci. Sources at the meeting described it as resolutely positive.