Sponsored by Energy Trust

Portland Harbor sinks under Superfund stigma

| Print |  Email
Articles - January 2010
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
“Seventy-five million dollars, and not a dollar of that went to cleanup,” says Wyatt. “If you are a private party thinking of investing in the harbor, these figures aren’t lost on you. It really does have a chilling effect.”

Wyatt, who served as chief of staff to Gov. John Kitzhaber when the EPA moved to list the harbor, has been involved with the Superfund process from day one. He says the slow pace is probably inevitable considering the complexity of the harbor, with more than 100 potentially responsible parties, 10 miles of river plus upland properties that drain into the river, the Endangered Species Act listing of migrating salmon, the rights of tribes with historic fishing rights, and a 150-year history of development under constantly evolving environmental laws.

“You don’t want to come to a conclusion too quickly and leave something out, because that could lead to serious litigation and further delay,” says Wyatt. “Everybody wants to be sure that we only do this once. It’s just too expensive and too disruptive to do it again.”

But complexity is just one factor contributing to the delays. Attempts to unite the business community to pursue a common solution have run into resistance. Major players in the harbor including Schnitzer Steel, Arco, Oregon Steel (now Evraz) and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad refused to sign key documents with the EPA. A second business group led by Schnitzer and ExxonMobil, the Blue Water Group, has formed in addition to the Lower Willamette Group, and the relationship between the two groups has been contentious because the Lower Willamette Group has been much more proactive in funding the investigation. The litigation has already begun, and many more lawsuits will follow once it finally comes time to decide how to clean up the mess and how to pay for it.

Another factor contributing to delays is the pollution itself. Arkema isn’t the only waterfront property that still poses a threat to the river. Industrial solvents have been detected in the river near the Siltronic silicon wafer plant and the Gunderson barge and railcar plant. NW Natural’s former Gasco site, which burned coal and oil to illuminate the city in Portland’s early years, is extensively polluted with petroleum waste. Schnitzer’s auto recycling operation is a source of PCBs from plastic parts being shredded. Pollution from the Rhone Poulenc site inland from Arkema has seeped all the way down into the basalt zone.

Early initiatives to clean up these properties have cost companies millions but produced mixed results. Until these high-priority sites are contained, the broader cleanup of the river is on hold. In the meantime, the EPA has forbidden maintenance dredging in the Willamette, and the channel is filling in to the point where extra-large ships cannot navigate it while fully loaded. This has not posed a big problem yet because marine traffic is down, but it could prove significant once the economy rebounds.

Nine years into the process, it is far from decided what the ultimate remedy will be for cleaning up the river. The port’s preferred strategy would involve building an in-water “confined disposal facility” for storing toxic sediments. This approach has received positive reviews at similar restoration sties throughout the nation, but it has generated more than 10 letters of criticism for every letter of support in Portland.

Whatever the solution ends up being, actual cleanup is unlikely to begin for a very long time. Steve Gunther, an environmental contractor who resigned from the harbor’s Community Advisory Group in frustration, says, “This is a billion-dollar project with no timeframe, no budget, no vision and no accountability. How long do you have to study this thing before somebody finally goes in there and pulls the trigger?”

Gunther calls Superfund process “a jobs program for lawyers, lab rats and consultants.”

It is also a process capable of generating monstrous piles of paper. A document cataloging the Portland harbor documents that the EPA has on file in Seattle runs 2,000 pages. And that’s just the index.

_MGH0284
Maritime trade and jobs are both down throughout the harbor.

Even as concerns over environmental liability have spread fear and delayed deals, investment in the harbor continued — at least until the recession took hold. City planner Steve Kountz says harbor businesses invested $400 million from 2003 to 2007. Several companies expanded their operations, and at least one newcomer, Advanced American Construction, the contractor that built the Eastbank Esplanade, purchased a waterfront property and set up operations near the St. Johns Bridge. Other promising local companies such as Nexion, which refurbishes wind turbines, have expressed interest in moving to the harbor, and the Portland Development Commission is searching for innovative ways to help these deals go through, in spite of the burden of Superfund.



 

More Articles

The 100 Best Companies survey is open

News
Friday, October 24, 2014

100-best-logo-2015 500pxw-1How does your workplace stack up against competitors? How can you improve workplace practices to help recruit and retain employees? Find out by taking our 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon survey!


Read more...

Corner Office: Marv LaPorte

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

The president of LaPorte & Associates lets us in on his day-to-day life.


Read more...

Political Clout

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY KIM MOORE

Businesses spend billions of dollars each year trying to influence political decision makers by piling money into campaigns.


Read more...

Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


Read more...

A Complex Portrait: Immigration, Jobs and the Economy

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JOE ROJAS-BURKE & KIM MOORE

Oregon Business reports on the visa squeeze, the skills gap and foreign-born residents who are revitalizing rural Oregon.


Read more...

Corner Office: Sheree Arntson

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Checking in with the managing director of Arnerich Massena.


Read more...

Shifting Ground

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JOE ROJAS-BURKE

Bans on genetically modified crops create uncertainty for farmers.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS