The Willamette River is special to Portland. It runs through the heart of our city. It provides opportunities for recreation and is home to many species of wildlife. It provides opportunities for people to earn a living wage and to support their families, and it is a gateway to global markets for businesses throughout the state.
Unfortunately, the Portland Harbor, a 10-mile stretch of river from the Fremont Bridge north to near the Columbia River, is also home to historic contamination dating back more than 100 years. The sources include agricultural and urban development, U.S. war-time activities, industrial activities, sewer discharges and storm water overflows. This legacy of contamination is now the responsibility of our generation to fix, and we must do that to preserve the river for all its uses.
After 15 years of study, the EPA has come out with a proposed plan to clean up the harbor. The $746 million cost will be borne throughout the community because federal law defines how costs are allocated among potentially responsible parties. This means that local businesses with ties to the harbors economy will help pay, along with taxpayers and ratepayers in the City of Portland.
The Portland Harbor provides good, family-wage jobs and is an important part of a bustling regional economy. The area has a deep-water shipping channel surrounded by warehouses, marine terminals and industrial businesses that employ about 30,000 people.
In addition, a 2013 Value of Jobs Coalition study showed that about 300 local companies, mostly small businesses, provide 42 percent of the goods and services purchased by five large marine industrial businesses in the area. Those companies depend on the river, and other businesses throughout the region depend on them in turn.
We need this part of our economy to stay vibrant and so before any cleanup plan is finalized, its important the EPA recognizes the impact to these employers and the jobs they create.
The EPAs proposed plan currently calls for significant dredging to take place, every day, around the clock for seven years. This method is expected to negatively impact business operations as well as recreational opportunities and air quality for years to come. But dredging is not the only answer and flexibility in the plan is needed to take into account varying levels of contamination, on-the-ground conditions and updated data.
The bottom line is that the river must be cleaned up, but we need a plan that is realistic and grounded in science and that balances a healthy river with a healthy economy.
In other Superfund cleanups around the country, the EPAs cost estimate has been understated. With so many critical issues facing the city, like affordable housing and homelessness, its important to weigh the true cost of the project and find a cleanup method that works for everyone.
Please join me in encouraging the EPA to adopt a plan that is protective of human health; the environment; and our local businesses, workers, taxpayers and ratepayers. A coalition in support of this approach called Healthy River, Healthy Economy has provided an easy way to comment at: rivercleanupnow.com
After 15 years of study, its time to get to work.
Jim Mark is CEO of Melvin Mark Companies and is chair-elect of the Portland Business Alliance board of directors. Send feedback to: [email protected]portlandalliance.com.