Ross Island Sand and Gravel is delinquent in key commitments to clean up its contamination of the Willamette River island, WW has learned.
The company, which is negotiating with City Hall over owner Robert Pamplin Jr.'s overdue promise to donate the island to the city, faces two issues with state regulatory agencies.
The first is an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality-mandated cleanup of both underwater and above-grade terrain contaminated during Ross Island's mining and processing of gravel from the early 1920s until 2001. The second is a commitment from Ross Island to the Division of State Lands to replace much of the material it excavated.
A May 1 letter from DEQ warned Ross Island that its sloppy mitigation may actually be making things worse, "potentially resulting in the exposure/release of contaminated material to the water column."
DEQ project manager Jennifer Sutter says that in addition to performing questionable work, Ross Island has also been proceeding very slowly. "They admitted that they were taking longer than was reasonable and said they were having some monetary issues that were slowing the work," Sutter told WW.
Sutter says the company agreed in December 2005 to cap underwater sediments, stabilize underwater slopes and implement a long-term monitoring program for the island, which is just south of the Ross Island Bridge. The estimated cost of the DEQ requirements was about $1.3 million, Sutter says.
Ross Island also fell behind on more extensive commitments to the Division of State Lands. That agreement in 2003 called for Ross Island to dump about 5 million cubic yards of clean material into underwater gravel pits.
In a mid-May letter to Ross Island, DSL natural resource coordinator Joy Freibaum peppered the company with 17 questions about the apparent shortcomings in the company's efforts. Most notably, Freibaum questioned whether the company was complying with the requirement that it fill excavations with clean, or "class A," dirt.
While DEQ announced two weeks ago that Ross Island had agreed to a specific timetable to finish its cleanup by February 2008, DSL has given the company until Sept. 1 to explain its actions.
Environmentalists Mike Houck of the Urban Greenspaces Institute and Travis Williams of Willamette Riverkeeper are disappointed that Ross Island has failed to restore what both men regard as a vital piece of the Willamette's ecosystem. Of greater concern to both is that company owner Pamplin (who also owns the Portland Tribune) may have changed his mind about giving the island to the City of Portland ("Island of Doubt," WW, July 5). Sources told WW earlier that Pamplin now insists that the city assume all liability and maintenance costs.
Houck, who co-chaired a panel that held a series of public meetings on Ross Island's future, says the company got off more lightly on reclamation obligations in part because of the presumption the island would become a city park.
"We negotiated in good faith over a two-year period and arrived at an agreement with respect to the amount of restoration which was tremendously favorable to Dr. Pamplin," Houck wrote in a July 6 letter to Mayor Tom Potter. "The only issue at hand, in my opinion, is whether Dr. Pamplin is a man of his word."
Pamplin met with Potter and Commissioner Erik Sten on Tuesday. Potter spokesman John Doussard said after the meeting that talks will continue. Ross Island officials could not be reached for comment.