The state and federal governments have many roles, including protecting the public’s health and natural resources here in Oregon. One high-profile ecological restoration of a contaminated site is the EPA’s Superfund cleanup of the Portland Harbor. The billion-dollar cleanup includes 377 acres of contaminated sediment in the river along a ten-mile stretch of the Williamette River. This area suffered from decades of use by several industries that contaminated the water, becoming a health risk for residents.
Since many do not understand what a Superfund cleanup means to the community, we thought we’d provide some background and insights.
Officially called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), Superfund was enacted in 1980. It taxes the petroleum and chemical industries and authorizes the government and EPA to address or respond to the release of hazardous material into the environment.
The Superfund program cleans up the worst hazardous waste sites in the country, reducing or eliminating threats to public health and the environment. Obviously, the initial goal is to remove toxic or hazardous materials. This makes it a safe and fostering environment for native plants and animals (including migratory birds), but the impact goes much further.
Everything is connected
The ecological cleanup is essential, but these programs also support local economies and enhance the quality of life in the community. Studies show that communities see such benefits as:
- Rising home values and gentrification
- Environmental justice
- Deterring vandalism
- Reducing trespassing
- Eliminating blight
Creating new assets
Superfunds support better economic outcomes as well. While sites were once blighted or at least vacant, the rehabilitation creates valuable local assets. Whether it is converting the site of a chemical wasteland into places for recreation, ecological habitat, commerce, alternative and renewable energy development, housing, and agriculture, it can turn polluted waterways into areas safe for recreation.
There is also development and redevelopment. As of 2021, there were 78 on-site businesses in the Portland Harbor superfund area. These businesses employed 4,649 people and generated an estimated $1,437,558,614 annual sales revenue.
A success story
While the work here is not yet complete, Portland residents are already seeing the social and economic benefits of having a healthy and working waterway for all. It was a collaborative effort where the EPA listened to community concerns. Residents, businesses and a wide range of organizations have or will have opportunities to get involved. This preliminary work ensured that redevelopment remains consistent with long-term Superfund cleanup goals for the site.