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Settlement sought for Frontier Leather site

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will hold a July 26 informational meeting in Sherwood in an effort to settle a long-running dispute regarding contaminated waste at the now-defunct Frontier Leather Co. and a site known as Ken Foster Farms.

The meeting, which will ask five parties to sign off on paying a total of $2.6 million to clean up the site, begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Sherwood Senior Center. If approved, the funds would go to removing contaminated soil from a tanning solution that contained 5 percent trivalent chromium oxide at the leather company, which was located at 15104 S.W. Oregon St., and Ken Foster Farms, located on Murdock Road.

Bruce Gilles, a cleanup program manager for DEQ, said trivalent chromium oxide is not toxic to humans or most wildlife. However, it is toxic to birds.

The tannery - its buildings either burned down or torn down over the years - was adjacent to a wetlands area and a piece of the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.

From 1947 to 1988, Linke Enterprises of Oregon ran Frontier Leather Co. Hides were buried largely in 5,000 to 10,000 cubic yards of soil, said Gilles. Another dump site owned by Ken Foster, a tannery employee who has since died, was also used to get rid of materials such as bones and hide fragments. Ken Foster Farms is a 40-acre site located on Murdock Road, about half a mile south of the juncture of Oregon Street and Murdock Road.

Meanwhile, from 1956 to 1972, Frontier Leather leased a portion of its property to several firms that produced lead-acid batteries, and DEQ found high concentrations of lead and antimony at the site in 1988.

'That's been cleaned up already,' Gilles said of the soil affected by the battery manufacturer.

Linke Enterprises excavated 743 tons of lead-contaminated soil and wastes from the tannery site in 1990.

At some point, several private individuals and companies subsequently purchased property from Ken Foster, said Gilles.

'People really didn't know about the contamination on those properties until 2005,' said Gilles.

According to a proposed consent judgment prepared by the Oregon Department of Justice, 'In 2007, DEQ completed a screening-level risk assessment at the KFF Site to assess potential risks to residents living on the site. This evaluation concluded that site residents are not subject to significant risk through direct contact with site soils.'

Gilles said rumors that hides could be buried at Stella Olsen Park proved unfounded after the DEQ performed soil samples there.

The tannery site is about half cleaned up, and some cleanup has taken place at the Ken Foster site as well. Officials believe the money will help put a significant dent in finishing the cleanup, which could be completed within the next five years. If the settlement is approved, a final public hearing would be held.