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Juvenile chinook salmon (Credit: U.S. FWS)

Settlement Proposed for Injuries from Hazardous Waste Releases into Portland Harbor in Oregon

November 2, 2023

On November 1, 2023, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a proposed settlement valued at approximately $33 million to compensate for natural resource injuries that resulted from hazardous substance releases and oil discharges into the Willamette River and Portland Harbor in Oregon. The settlement would resolve the liability of more than 20 potentially responsible parties for damages to natural resources, loss of recreational services and tribal uses, as well as the cost of assessing those injuries. 

Since the 1900s, industries and public entities in the highly industrialized area have released dozens of harmful contaminants into Portland Harbor, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), heavy metals, pesticides, and other hazardous substances. The injuries caused by the releases include the following:

  • Contaminants in Portland Harbor have accumulated in sediments at potentially hazardous levels within an 11-mile stretch of the lower Willamette River and adjacent floodplains
  • Salmon and lamprey, as well as other wildlife, have been exposed to these contaminants and have been injured
  • Resident fish in the lower Willamette River contain elevated levels of contaminants. Health advisories restricting fish consumption are in effect

In March 2021, the Portland Harbor Trustee Council (Trustee Council) released a final Supplemental Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment. The Plan selected purchasing credits from restoration banks as the way that the Trustee Council will restore habitat during the current phase of restoration. 

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

The Trustee Council has been conducting a NRDA for the Portland Harbor site. NRDA is separate from and in addition to the cleanup of hazardous waste sites. In conducting a NRDA, Trustee agencies seek to restore injured natural resources, compensate for lost ecological services they would have provided had there not been contaminant releases, and compensate the public for lost or diminished human uses of natural resources as well. 

Natural resources include many parts of the natural environment including water, sediment, fish, birds, and mammals. Human uses include the loss or impairment of recreational opportunities, such as boating, and adverse effects on natural resource-based tribal cultural uses.

The Portland Harbor Trustee Council members are the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Department of the Interior; the State of Oregon; the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon; the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians; the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon; and the Nez Perce Tribe.

Public Comment

The settlement is open for a public comment period until January 28, 2024. Please refer to the Federal Register notice for instructions on submitting public comments on the settlement. Additional information is available on the Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council website.

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