The Justice Department lodged two proposed consent decrees yesterday in federal court among Tribal, state and federal natural resource trustees and over 20 potentially responsible parties (PRPs) at the Portland Harbor Superfund Site in Oregon. The agreements, with an estimated restoration value of approximately $33.2 million, require the PRPs to pay cash damages or purchase credits in projects to restore salmon and other natural resources that were lost due to contamination released from the responsible parties’ facilities into the Willamette River. This settlement includes more than $600,000 in damages for the public’s lost recreational use of the river, and restoration and monitoring of culturally significant plants and animals.
The settlement also includes additional funds to pay costs incurred by the Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council for assessing the harm to the injured natural resources. The Trustee Council is comprised of representatives from the Five Tribes, which includes the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe, along with representatives of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and State of Oregon.
“This settlement represents years of hard work by the Portland Harbor natural resource trustees and responsible parties who cooperated to restore the harm caused by those parties’ contamination,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The resulting restoration projects funded by these agreements will provide permanent ecological benefits to help restore the biodiversity of the Willamette River system.”
“The Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe wholly support this settlement,” said the Five Tribes. “Contamination has uniquely affected tribal members because of their cultural use of and relationship with affected natural resources in and around the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. The Five Tribes believe the collaborative process of this settlement represents the best path forward for restoring Portland Harbor natural resources for the benefit of both current and future generations.”
“The trustees are very pleased that the responsible parties in this settlement have advanced restoration over litigation. The large-scale restoration projects facilitated by this settlement will help address the most important habitat needs of fish and wildlife injured by contamination in Portland Harbor,” said Director Curt Melcher of Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We will continue our settlement discussions with the remaining responsible parties who are participating in the early settlement initiative so we can achieve additional permanent restoration of natural resources. Partnering with restoration project developers has already produced on-the-ground restoration even prior to today’s settlement.”
The use of restoration credits in four natural resource projects that were developed in partnership with private developers is a novel and critical feature of the settlement. Restoration credits are like ecological “shares” in a restoration project, and the natural resource trustees decide how many “shares” each project is worth. Defendants in the settlement can purchase restoration credits from the restoration project developers instead of paying cash to resolve the ecological injury portion of their liability. Using this approach at Portland Harbor has produced on-the-ground restoration much sooner and at less cost than traditional cash-only settlements. Collectively, the restoration value in these projects is the largest natural resource credit bank at any Superfund Site in the country.
The four restoration projects selling restoration credits – Alder Creek, Harborton, Linnton Mill and Rinearson Natural Area – provide habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act and of tremendous cultural significance to the Five Tribes. The projects will also restore habitat for other fish and wildlife injured by contamination in Portland Harbor – like bald eagle, mink and lamprey – as well as Tribally significant native plants – like camas, wapato and sweetgrass. Construction is complete and habitat development is underway at all four projects, which are expected to provide ecological benefits in perpetuity, will be permanently protected from development and will receive long-term stewardship.
The agreements result from an early settlement collaboration between the natural resource trustees at the Portland Harbor Superfund Site and a group of PRPs who participated in that effort. Negotiations are continuing with other PRPs that also are participating in the trustees’ early settlement initiative. If the trustees reach agreements in those ongoing negotiations, it could include additional cash settlements or restoration credit purchases in the four restoration projects.
On behalf of the trustees on the Trustee Council, the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Enforcement Section filed the complaint and lodged the proposed consent decrees in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.
The proposed decrees resolve the natural resource damages allegations of the United States, Oregon and the Five Tribes for releases of contamination from the PRPs’ identified facilities. Alleged violations are in connection with Section 107 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act; the Oil Pollution Act and the Clean Water Act.
The settlement is subject to a 45-day public comment period and final court approval. It is available for viewing at www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees. Please refer to the upcoming Federal Register notice for instructions on submitting any public comments on the settlement. Additional information is available on the Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council website at www.fws.gov/portlandharbor/news/two-consent-decrees-lodged.