Making community connections on the Willamette River

by appell 9/29/2015 1:50 PM

On September 23rd, community members had a firsthand experience of Portland’s working waterfront through a boat tour from downtown Portland to the tip of Sauvie Island, stopping at Swan Island Lagoon and Willamette Cove. Stakeholders from Portland’s houseless community and representatives from Right 2 Dream Too, Portland Harbor Community Coalition, Lower Willamette Group, Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group, the Environmental Protection Agency, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Oregon Health Authority, the Port of Portland, and many others came together to share perspectives about the lower Willamette River.

The lower Willamette River cleanup links the hopes and dreams of many people. Legacy contamination from past industrial practices prompted the listing of a stretch of the river as a federal Superfund site. A 15-year study process has left many people with questions about the project and concerns about environmental health.

The tour introduced community members to Superfund cleanup issues and future engagement processes. While the trip offered spectacular views, it was also a journey to new relationships and understanding between Superfund regulators, project managers and members of Portland’s houseless community and support organizations. While the boat meandered downstream, so did the conversations – as people exchanged ideas and information on an incredibly complex project.

Pausing at Willamette Cove, Port of Portland and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality staff shared information about the upcoming voluntary cleanup at the site to make it safer for people and wildlife. Owned by Metro, the area is just downstream from the railroad bridge on the east side of the river in North Portland.  Historically, it hosted cooperage and ship repair facilities. Port of Portland briefly owned some of the area, and is pro-actively engaging in site cleanup with Metro.

Currently, the soil contains elevated concentrations of dioxins and heavy metals.  The Port will be excavating and removing contaminated soil along the upland area above the shoreline in October and November 2015. The property is not open to the public, although use of the property for recreational purposes is known to occur.  Metro has placed signs and fences to let people know about safety issues. After the cleanup are complete, Metro plans to preserve Willamette Cove as an urban natural area.

The Willamette Cove project is just one of many cleanups that will occur as the lower Willamette River Superfund project progresses.  DEQ, working with lower Willamette River property owners, has identified numerous areas along banks and adjacent lands that should be remediated to prevent recontamination of the river bottom. The cleanup process is a journey that will navigate the waters of many perspectives that must come together to produce a vison for a healthier river that supports people, jobs and the environment.

Barbara Smith, from the Lower Willamette Group, shared “It was a great tour to introduce community members to the Superfund project. It brought people together who aren’t normally involved in the formal process, and it was wonderful to hear new perspectives on the river and exchange ideas.” You can learn more about the conversations at the Portland Harbor Community Boat Tour by listening to the radio show on KBOO. Additional project background is available by listening to the One River – Many Voices podcast series.

City Releases Willamette River Recreation Strategy

by wrayr 11/23/2011 4:33 PM

The City of Portland’s Office of Healthy Working Rivers and Portland Parks and Recreation recently released the draft “Willamette River Recreation Strategy.” This draft document outlines recreation policy guidance and identifies specific river recreation actions over the next five to 15 years in order to meet the city’s growing river recreation demand.


With 17 miles of the Willamette flowing through the City of Portland, and with so many Portlanders enjoying recreation on and along the Willamette, this report is worth a look. The City is taking feedback and comments on the draft document through Friday, December 9. You can share your thoughts by email, phone, letter, or by taking a quick online survey.

Don’t Miss "Industry & Art" Exhibit at Vigor Industrial!

by wrayr 9/19/2011 2:53 PM

This month, the Port is helping sponsor an exciting event, the Industry&Art: The Rivers Run Through Us exhibit at Vigor Industrial Shipyard. This must-see art show and sale is a unique glimpse into the people and industries of Portland’s working waterfront. The exhibit features both established and emerging artists (many of whom work in Portland Harbor) and includes paintings, sculptures, photography and more.

Industry&Art runs from September 22nd to the 25th, with open gallery and viewing hours this Thursday and Friday from 10 AM to 6 PM. On Saturday and Sunday, the exhibit is open from 11 AM to 7 PM, and in addition to viewing the exhibit, attendees can take a jet boat tour of the harbor, board the fully restored steamer Portland (the last steam-powered, sternwheeler tugboat to be built in the United States), and get up close to a World War II PT boat.


Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5. Vigor Industrial Shipyard is located on Swan Island at 5555 N. Channel Avenue, Portland, OR 97217.

RiverFest is Coming!

by wrayr 8/15/2011 4:33 PM

The Port of Portland is a proud sponsor of RiverFest -- Portland’s annual celebration of the Willamette River. Be part of the celebration by attending one of the dozens of RiverFest events, including a concert in the park, kayak lessons, bridge tours, harbor tours, a SOLV riverbank clean-up, and more!

Click here for all the details, and don’t miss the RiverFest Fair this Sunday, August 21, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Watch the action at the Portland Triathlon while enjoying family-friendly activities all designed to bring you closer to one of the region’s true treasures, the Willamette River.

And sign up NOW for a special RiverFest sight-seeing cruise on the Portland Spirit -- see the Willamette close-up and in comfort on this special discounted adventure.


Readings from “Honoring Our Rivers” Anthology

by wrayr 5/13/2011 3:06 PM

Don’t miss out on a great event at Powell’s City of Books. Each year, students and teachers from across Oregon publish original poems, essays, and artwork about the Willamette River and other regional watersheds. Powell’s on Burnside will host these budding and established artists at a special reading on Sunday, May 22, at 4 p.m.

New Events Added to Portland Harbor Series!

by wrayr 5/13/2011 12:26 PM

Great coverage in the Oregonian of the Portland Harbor: Behind the Scenes tours. Next up: a busy day on Saturday, May 21, with a tour of the Coast Guard facilities on Swan Island and a barge launch at Gunderson. No RSVP required for these events! Check out the PHBTS Facebook page for more details.

Portland Harbor: Behind the Scenes

by wrayr 4/1/2011 2:37 PM

The latest round of Portland Harbor: Behind the Scenes tours have been announced, and we hope you join us as we continue to explore the working waterfront of Portland. Remember: you must RSVP for all tours. Contact Brooke Berglund, Port tour and outreach manager, at 503.415.6532.

Follow Portland Harbor: Behind the Scenes on Facebook!

The details on this spring’s series:

April 16, 2011; 10 a.m. – Noon
Goods to Market: How Port Facilities Work: Port of Portland Terminal 6
They're big, they're busy, and they're mysterious: that's the extent of what most people know about marine terminals like the Port's Terminal 6. In an area typically closed to the public due to federal security regulations, you'll tour among the shadows of towering 16-story cranes and giant multicolored containers stacked up like Legos. Learn how and why things like furniture, tires, footwear, apparel, and cars arrive from overseas, while agricultural goods, animal feed, paper, metal scrap, and wood are exported.
Minimum Age: 14

April 30, 2011; 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
The Port Across the River: Port of Vancouver

Up and down the Columbia River, maritime activity bustles with exports and imports of various commodities to and from international markets. The Port of Vancouver is no exception. With exports of steel scrap and imports of Subarus and wind energy cargo, this facility is sure to impress! Don't miss out on the opportunity to find out more about the port across the river!
Minimum Age: 18

May 7, 2011; 8:30, 9, 9:30, 10 a.m. (tours will last approximately 2 hours)
All About Potash: Portland Bulk Terminals

Step inside the largest wooden structure west of the Mississippi and learn all about the product that comes from mines in Saskatchewan, Canada and provides both agricultural and industrial uses for several international markets including Oceania, Asia, and Latin America. Owned by Canpotex, the world's largest exporter of potash, the 100 acre facility will allow participants to get up close to the entire process from the unloading of the rail cars to the ship loading which processes 3,000 metric tons an hour. Take advantage of this unique opportunity open to the public to learn what the two different kinds of potash are used for and why this facility is essential for crops all over the world.
Minimum Age: 18

May 18, 2011; 4 – 5:30 p.m.

Wheat and So Much More: Columbia Grain

In 1868, just 23 years after a coin toss gave Portland its name, the first overseas shipment of wheat sailed from our harbor to Liverpool, England, establishing our city as an international gateway. Today, the Portland Harbor is the largest wheat export hub in the United States. This is thanks, in large part, to the activities at Columbia Grain, who handled over 4.3 million tons of grain last year. The company supplies superior quality western grain to service both U.S. domestic markets and export markets worldwide. Supply lines include the western region of the U.S., well known for its high quality wheat, feed grains and pulses. You'll have the rare opportunity to visit this Terminal 5 facility, which is otherwise closed to the public.
Minimum Age: 18

June 08, 2011; 3:30 – 5 p.m.
Big Barge Builders: Zidell Marine Corporation
Come inside the world of big barges that are up to 90 feet in width and as long as a football field. These big steel containers haul such items as lumber, grain, chemicals, petroleum products, wood chips, sand, and gravel throughout the West Coast, Alaska, Hawaii, and at ports on the Columbia and Snake River systems. Learn all about the history of the Zidell companies which have been around for nearly 100 years and employ over 200 people in the Pacific Northwest and learn why Zidell Marine Corporation is an important economic driver on the working waterfront.
Minimum Age: 14

June 18, 2011; 10 a.m. – Noon
All About Ships and Barges:  Vigor Industrial
"Wow!" "Holy cow!" "That is amazing!" These are some of the descriptions heard about the unique vessels seen coming and going at Vigor Industrial's Portland Shipyard. Vigor Industrial owns several subcompanies, including Vigor Marine, Cascade General, and US Barge, that specialize in maritime construction and repair. See the eye-opening scale of their operations; hear about what they're working on; and learn about the people who make a living there.
Minimum Age: 7 (accompanied by an adult)

Major Milestone Reached on Willamette River Cleanup

by wrayr 6/17/2010 4:24 PM

When the draft remedial investigation report for the Portland Harbor Superfund site is stacked vertically, it’s nearly three feet high. Packed with maps, charts, and graphs, the report, which was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency by a coalition of businesses and public agencies in October 2009, analyzes more than 1 million data points.

But perhaps the most important result from the report is that it concludes nearly eight years of study of Willamette River sediment, and clears a path forward to actual river cleanup and rehabilitation. Jim McKenna, Lower Willamette program manager for the Port, explained, “We now have the data needed to make meaningful cleanup decisions.”

With that said, actual in-water work is still years away, with several important steps to reach first. McKenna noted, “Right now, EPA is reviewing the site risk assessment and risk characterization.” Risk assessments make conservative estimates of potential risks to human health and the environment. Risk characterizations evaluate risk assessment dataaccording to real-life context. Risk assessments might determine the impacts of someone eating a certain kind of fish 19 times a month over 30 years. A risk characterization asks if that’s a reasonable expectation. “EPA will then make risk management decisions that drive the remedies chosen and where in the harbor they’re applied.”

From the Port’s perspective, moving forward as expediently as possible is ideal. “We want to clean up the river, remove the Superfund stigma, and give people another reason to be proud of how we do things in Portland,” said Bill Wyatt, Port of Portland executive director.

Getting there won’t be easy – or inexpensive. To date, Port costs exceed $66 million, and the Port is just one of more than 100 identified potentially responsible parties. Engaged parties are working to meet the next major milestone: a feasibility study of cleanup measures. The study includes scientific evaluations, like the chemical “fate and transport model,” which looks at how chemicals in the river migrate or settle. And there’s also a larger public discussion of cleanup goals and activities. While EPA is charged with making decisions on cleanup remedies, the agency looks to the public for input on how to balance environmental protectiveness, fiscal responsibility and appropriate methods.

With each milestone reached, we’re closer to the point where expenditures are dedicated to cleanup work, not reports. Meanwhile, numerous other efforts to improve Willamette water quality continue. Wyatt said, “Many Superfund rivers will be more contaminated after they finish cleaning up the pollution than the Willamette is before we even begin cleanup work. While the Willamette has legacy contamination, Portlanders are starting from a good place that can only help us get to a better place.”

The Port was the first entity to sign a cleanup order with the Environmental Protection Agency. At Terminal 4, the Port has completed the first phase of in-water cleanup and removed upland sources of contamination. The second phase of the work – a confined disposal facility to be built in one of the terminal’s slips – is on hold while harborwide remedy decisions are made. A final Record of Decision from EPA, which will precede most cleanup efforts, is not expected until at least 2012.

Cleanup Facts:

  • The cost of the investigation stems from the challenges of studying a complex site spread over 10 miles.
  • Chemical concentrations in sediment are greater deep down, indicating that sources of contamination more likely occurred farther back in the harbor’s history, and that surface sediment quality has improved over time.
  • Contamination includes PCBs and, to a lesser extent, dioxins, PAHs, and DDT.