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Rail, barge maker adds green roofs to site near Portland harbor

Gunderson hopes to study impact of roofs to attract habitat

Northwest Portland rail car and barge manufacturer Gunderson LLC is trying to create new bird habitat in the industrial area along Portland's Willamette riverfront, by building its version of eco roofs.

Gunderson dedicated its first 1,000-square-foot Habitat Roof, an eco roof fitted with special plants designed to filter rain water and attract birds and insects, on June 1. It will add a second 2,500-square-foot version last this summer, says Dave Harvey, Gunderson environmental director.

Both roofs are seen as pilot projects to study the cost and value of using them to enhance habitat, Harvey says.

The first roof, made entirely by Gunderson employees, cost the company $75,000, but the company figures it has learned more efficient techniques and can build the second one for $90,000, Harvey says.

Gunderson has about 900,000 square feet of rooftops at its complex in the Northwest industrial area, in and around 4350 N.W. Front Avenue.

'We're trying to see, long-term, if and we how we might be able to convert some of our existing roof space to create habitat value,' Harvey says.

Gunderson and other manufacturers have been embroiled in a long-running debate with the city of Portland over development rights and environmental restoration of the Portland harbor area, which is contaminated from chemical spills occurring long ago. Gunderson is one of several manufacturers in the Working Waterfront Coalition.

'Ultimately, we're trying to do the right thing,' Harvey says.

But there might come a day when such roofs are required by regulations, he says. Or they might prove useful as a tradeoff for development when other properties are developed, much as developers do for wetlands, he says.

Gunderson worked closely with the city Bureau of Environmental Services on the project, and received technical assistance from a volunteer group of eco roof professionals and promoters, known as as the Greenroof Info Think-Tank, or GRiT.