Willamette Cove Cleanup Plan: 3 things to know

On March 31, 2021, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued the final cleanup plan for the Willamette Cove Upland. Willamette Cove is a 3,000-foot long property along the east bank of the Willamette River just north of the Steel Bridge. Historically used as a cooperage (barrel-making), lumber mill and dry dock, the site has extensive residual contamination.

Willamette Cove during its industrial phase in 1923 (left), and how it looks today (right)

DEQ has determined partial removal of contaminated soil, with a containment area for the remainder, will protect human health and the environment. Additionally, DEQ added a contingency remedy that will provide Metro flexibility as they finalize their planning for the site. The contingency remedy allows Metro to choose to move more contaminated material off-site and shrink the consolidation area. Read the final cleanup plan.

What does this really mean for the future of the upland area? Here are three things you need to know:

  1. The final cleanup plan protects human health and the environment. The plan requires the removal of “hot spots,” or elevated concentrations of contamination and containment of remaining soil contamination. This approach will ensure people and animals are not exposed to harmful contamination.
  • When the cleanup is done, the whole upland will be safe for the public. Metro’s proposed future use for the site is a nature park with a trail. The cleanup will allow for safe use of the entire upland area. Additionally, DEQ’s contingency remedy allows Metro to remove additional contaminated soil and take it offsite for disposal at a waste facility, which will allow for more flexibility as they work with the community to finalize their vision for the site.
  • The worst contamination will be hauled away, while the rest will be consolidated into a secure, contained area. The containment area is an engineer-constructed container for contamination designed to be protective of human health and the environment and to withstand various seismic, climate change and flooding events. DEQ has successfully implemented containment areas along the Willamette River, including at the South Waterfront where the MAX landing serves as the lid to a 12,000 cubic yard container for contaminated soil.

DEQ reviewed and considered over 180 comments, which touched on a wide variety of issues, such as how much soil is removed, seismic resiliency, and the need for cleanup to happen soon. You can read DEQ’s response to these comments online.

So what’s next?

Next steps, in preparation for cleanup, include a final, large-scale soil sample collection effort to confirm the depth of excavation necessary to achieve cleanup goals. DEQ will also use this data to develop final plans for soil containment and off-site disposal. 

Timing for completing the cleanup of the upland is closely linked to the Portland Harbor Superfund in-water cleanup work, led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This work will impact the riverbank and, thus, the upland remedy. DEQ and EPA are coordinating closely on this work along with other federal, state, and local agency partners and the community to make sure this cleanup happen in sync.

For more information on this project, go to ordeq.org/willamettecove.

– Lauren Wirtis, public affairs specialist

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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