DEQ seeks public comment on pollution settlements
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is seeking comment on two settlement proposals that would absolve companies with historical operations on Railroad Avenue in St. Helens from liability for hazardous substance releases.
DEQ is seeking comment on an $8.6 million settlement with Armstrong World Industries, a ceiling tile manufacturer, and a separate $1.5 million settlement with Owens Corning, a former roofing and fiberglass composites company that operated on the property from 1978 to 1981.
Approval of the settlements would allow DEQ to pursue studies and cleanup of the site.
DEQ project manager Madi Novak said the department is also working with Kaiser Gypsum, a former building construction materials company that operated on the property from 1956 to 1978, on a similar settlement agreement. Kaiser Gypsum filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and discussions are ongoing, Novak said.
Meanwhile, DEQ is moving forward with discussions with Armstrong and Owens Corning representatives. In addition to the cash payment, Armstrong would be responsible for implementing a proposed cleanup on the developed portion of the property, for which it would pay DEQ for oversight.
The cash payments would be used to conduct a remedial investigation and, ultimately, pay for cleanup efforts of the lowland portion of the property, which has not been developed, Novak explained.
Armstrong recently announced plans to close its St. Helens plant by mid-2018. While it's unclear if another business would begin using the space, a spokesperson for the company stated that it will "evaluate all viable opportunities regarding the property" at the time of closure.
St. Helens City Administrator John Walsh said the city was notified about the proposed settlements and has an upcoming meeting with DEQ officials. Discussions around site cleanup could include removal of soil from the site and local disposal options, Walsh added.
Depending on the quality and volume, St. Helens may consider using the soil to help fill the city's secondary wastewater lagoon — a project the city first began exploring in 2016 when it expressed interest in accepting dredged soil from a Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup.
"We don't even know what it is at this point," Walsh said of the site soils. "Yes, we have this interest in repurposing the city's wastewater lagoon, but we want to do it with material that's not hazardous."
Port of St. Helens Executive Director Doug Hayes said DEQ also approached the Port and expressed interest in meeting to discuss work on the cleanup projects. The Port owns property adjacent to the Armstrong facility.
According to DEQ records, Armstrong obtained the 38-acre property on Railroad Avenue in 1987 when it began its operations on the site. In 2001, DEQ identified the site as a high priority because of its proximity to habitat for endangered species, such as salmon, and the site was subsequently divided into upland and lowland units to conduct remedial site evaluations.