Metro Will Now Consider Full Cleanup of Contamination at Willamette Cove

Councilor Sam Chase successfully pushes his colleagues to entertain doing more than DEQ recommended.

Willamette Cove. (Justin Katigbak)

The Metro Council heard from dozens of members of the public today who were at times emotional and at others incredulous that the council would recommend anything less than a full cleanup of Willamette Cove, a heavily contaminated 27-acre parcel of riverfront property the agency owns in North Portland.

"I can't get my head around why this is even a question," said Willie Levenson of the Human Access Project, which spearheaded the opening of two downtown beaches on the Willamette.

Alvey Seeyouma, a Native American leader who belongs o  the Hopi-Tewa tribe and does land conservation work in Portland, expressed disappointment that Metro was contemplating following a recommendation by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that would leave 23,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil buried at Willamette Cove.

"It's just another treaty that is going to be trampled on," Seeyouma testified. "The money is there to do a complete job."

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Metro Councilor Sam Chase amended the resolution the council was set to vote on today, which would have made Willamette Cove eligible for some of the $475 million approved by voters in a Metro parks bond measure in 2019.

Chase added language to the measure that would require Metro to "convene a work session within 30 days of the issuance of the DEQ record of decision for Willamette Cove to discuss additional and voluntary actions that Metro could take at the site to further improve its environmental condition."

"We are often reminded by the community to 'take care of what we have.' Willamette Cove is a poster child for taking care of what we have," Chase told his colleagues. "While brownfield cleanup can be confusing and complex, this issue is not. Metro is the property owner. Metro Council is responsible for ensuring our properties meet our mission and values."

The council unanimously approved Chase's amendment and the ordinance approving use of bond money for the cleanup.

The difference between the partial cleanup DEQ recommended ($8.8 million) and the full cleanup advocates and neighbors want ($10.7 million) is $1.9 million.

Chase said he hopes the council will take a long-term view on that gap.

"Whether that figure—along with the entirety of DEQ findings—is accurate deserves further council evaluation," Chase said. "However, the savings in potential liability and protections to this regional gem—Willamette Cove—may be the best bargain Metro ever sees."

DEQ expects to issue its record of decision by the end of March.

Portland Audubon conservation director Bob Sallinger, who pushed hard for the full cleanup, says he's feeling better after today.

"Certainly not everything we wanted," Sallinger said in a text message, "but a much higher level of responsiveness than we have seen to date."

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