Lawyer says sewer money should not be spent to clean up Portland Harbor
by: Tribune File Photo The City Council will hear a report on the Portland Harbor cleanup plans Wednesday. The harbor is a federal Superfund site. A lawsuit is challenging the city's involvement in the cleanup.

The City Council will hear a report Wednesday on the status and potential future schedule of the Portland Harbor Superfund process.

The report will be presented by administrators of two city agencies that have been involved in the process, the Bureau of Environmental Service and the relatively new Office of Healthy Rivers.

The presentation will occur at a time when a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court is questioning whether the environmental services bureau should even be involved in the Superfund process, however.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the harbor a Superfund site in 2000, requiring a massive and potentially expensive clean up process. The city has already spent millions of dollars on attorneys, staff time, consultants and various tests to determine how much the harbor is contaminated and how best to clean it up.

The total clean up cost is estimated between $445 million and $2.2 billion.

The suit was filed by lawyers representing Portland water and sewer customers who are challenging how the city has been spending some of their rate money. The environmental services bureau operates the city sewer system and stormwater management programs. It has provided much if not most of city money for the Superfund process so far.

But attorney John DiLorenzo, who is representing the customers, questions why the environmental services bureau is shouldering the financial burden. The suit argues that state laws and the City Charter require water and sewer rate funds to only be spent on the water and sewer systems.

As part of the research into the suit, DiLorenzo says he has reviewed much of the extensive correspondence between the city and the EPA. According to DiLorenzo, it is not clear from the correspondence that stormwater runoff or the city sewer system contributed significantly to the pollution the EPA cited in its Superfund designation.

DiLorenzo says the EPA is most concerned about industrial pollution, such as PCBs, a banned probable carcinogen found in parts of the harbor. DiLorenzo says there is no evidence in the correspondence that stormwater runoff and sewage leaks brought noticeable amounts of such contaminants into the harbor.

The city and nine other entities in the harbor have already signed an agreement with the EPA to conducted an Remedial Investigation and develop a Feasibility Study for a clean up plan. Calling themselves the Lower Willamette Group, those in addition to the city include: Arkema Inc.; Bayer CropScience Inc.; BNSF Railway Co.; Chevron USA Inc.; City of Portland; ConocoPhillips Co.; Gunderson LLC; Kinder Morgan Liquids Terminals; NW Natural; Evraz Inc. NA, dba Evraz Oregon Steel; Port of Portland; Siltronic Corp.; TOC Holdings Co., and the Union Pacific Railroad Co.

In his pre-trial filings, DiLorezno has asked attorneys representing the city to provide information on all money the environmental services bureau has spent so far on the Superfund process. The city is on the process of responding to the requests.

The city recently filed a motion to dismiss the suit, in part on the grounds that the City Council is authorized to determine the appropriate uses for water and sewer rate funds. No trial date has yet been set.

According to a March 20 memo from Ann Beier, director of the Office of Healthy Rivers, the Lower Willamette Group will submit its draft feasibility study to the EPA at the end of March.

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