We Asked Metro Council President Lynn Peterson Why the Toxic Soil of a North Portland Beach Hasn’t Been Removed

“We need to make sure we’re doing it right. It’s a brownfield.”

For more than a year, environmental advocates have wondered why regional government Metro is still letting dioxins, PCBs, heavy metals and other toxic chemicals stain what could be Portland’s next riverside park.

Last week, we put the question directly to Metro Council President Lynn Peterson.

“You don’t actually want to touch that dirt until there’s a plan,” she replied. “We need to make sure we’re doing it right. It’s a brownfield.”

In 2019, Metro voters approved a $475 million bond to improve and maintain the agency’s 17,000 acres of greenspaces. For much of that time, a panel called the North Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group has argued that no property fits the goals of that bond better than Willamette Cove, a heavily polluted beach on the northeast bank of the Willamette River that has been owned by Metro for 30 years.

Both the scope and pace of the cleanup have frustrated advocates, who see the cove as a way to restore river access for the ethnically diverse, blue-collar neighborhoods of North Portland. That argument is bolstered by the fact that less than $100 million of the bond has been spent—and the costs of improving parklands are rising with each month of inflation.

In a tense exchange with Peterson, WW reporter Nigel Jaquiss asked why Metro hasn’t shown more urgency in digging up the toxic soil. Here’s the video: