Willamette Cove is a property along the Willamette River north of the Railroad Bridge. Its industrial history dates back to the 1900s and that use has left significant contamination in place today.
In March 2021, DEQ has selected a final cleanup plan, called a Record of Decision, to address soil contamination on the upland portion of the Willamette Cove site. DEQ's decision follows a six-month public comment period on the recommended cleanup plan, and the review and consideration of public comments received. More information on the final cleanup plan is below.
Before any cleanup work can begin, DEQ needs additional information about exactly where the contamination is and how much there is. Starting Monday, July 18, contractors will begin collecting soil samples on Willamette Cove.
This is one of the largest soil sampling efforts in DEQ's history. The 27-acre site is broken into 41 sampling areas. In most of these areas, contractors will take 30 samples at three different depths. In each sampling area, the samples collected and will be sent to the lab as a combined group to give an average result for each of the contaminants of concern that are driving human and ecological health risk at the site. Read the technical plan called the Remedial Design Investigation Work Plan.
Work is beginning on the west parcel near where N. Richmond Ave. ends and will take about four months. People may see equipment stored on the neighboring McCormick and Baxter site, which is being used for the Willamette Cove upland sampling effort.
The results will helps DEQ understand the extent of contamination and whether soil in that area needs more investigation, should be disposed of off-site or can be consolidated on the property.
PLEASE REMEMBER: It is not safe for the general public to be on this site during or after the sampling work. People working on the site will be wearing the proper personal protective equipment and have been trained to work in areas with contamination.
In-water work update
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Willamette Cove In-water Remedial Design Group (City of Portland, Oregon Department of State Lands, and Port of Portland) are working with community members on the Willamette Cove in-water project area, which is part of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. Learn more about this work and get contact information.
Main Elements of the Final Cleanup Plan
DEQ determined that the proposed remedy, described below, is protective of human health and the environment based on Metro's planned future use of the site. The main elements are:
- Remove all soil above hot spots, or elevated levels of contamination, for human health
- Remove all soil with metals above hot spot levels for plants and animals
- Place at least one foot of clean topsoil across the entire upland area
DEQ has also incorporated a contingency remedy in the final cleanup plan to provide flexibility as Metro finalizes their vision in developing the property into a park. Under the contingency remedy, Metro Council decided to remove all additional contaminated soil that would have been put in a consolidation area on-site, and take it off-site for disposal at a waste facility.
DEQ is working with the Port of Portland, Metro and others to clean up contamination at this property, a former industrial site in North Portland along the east bank of the Willamette River. The property comprises approximately 27 acres and approximately 3,000 feet of Willamette River shoreline. Located south of the St. Johns Bridge, adjoining or nearby neighborhoods include Cathedral Park, St. Johns, and University Park.
1920 – Dry Dock Construction – Central Parcel. Photo shows the extensive infrastructure that was created to support the St. Johns Ship Repair Yard.
Willamette Cove's industrial use dates back to the early 1900s, including a lumber mill, plywood mill, barrel manufacturer and dry dock and ship repair facility. Industrial activities ended by the early 1980s. Metro purchased the property in 1996 and plans to preserve the land primarily as a natural area.
Previous industrial activities resulted in soil contamination. The contamination includes heavy metals, diesel fuel, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins. These chemicals pose a risk to human health and the environment. Information on the potential health effects from exposure to these contaminants is available in the 2013 Oregon Health Authority Health Consultation. While interim cleanup actions were performed in 2004, 2008, and 2015-2016, soil contamination remains at the property that poses a risk to people and the environment.
Recent photo shows current site conditions. Plants and animals have reemerged after industrial activities generally ceased in the 1970s. Photo courtesy of Michael Pouncil.
DEQ's upland cleanup will be closely coordinated with cleanup on the riverbank, beach and the adjoining Willamette River that EPA is managing as part of Portland Harbor Superfund Site work.
Read the final cleanup plan
Read the Fact Sheet/Hoja de hechos/Tờ Thông Tin/Информационная справка
View the story map on the site history, selected cleanup, and what's next (best viewed in the Chrome browser).
The Port of Portland and Metro have developed a draft Remedial Design Investigation Work Plan for the Willamette Cove Uplands. The level of work planned is significant with the intent to generate a robust comprehensive dataset to inform upland remedial design. Please note, this Work Plan should be considered draft and may change following DEQ review. It is anticipated upland remedial design sampling activities will span the Summer of 2022.
View the presentation on the proposed cleanup plan for Willamette Cove Upland for the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group (Recording from the CAG meeting/ Presentation)
Find additional information about the Willamette Cove Upland in DEQ's Environmental Cleanup Site Information Database on Willamette Cove Upland page.
Frequently asked questions
What’s next and when will cleanup be done?
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 also tied to the Portland Harbor in-water cleanup work, led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. DEQ anticipates that substantial portions of the riverbank will be subject to remedial action, which will impact the upland remedy. DEQ and EPA are coordinating closely on this work along with other federal, state, and local agency partners and the community.
Is the containment area safe? Does it really work? Can it withstand the Cascadia earthquake?
The containment area is an engineer-constructed container for contamination designed to withstand various seismic, climate change and flooding events. DEQ has successfully implemented similar on-site consolidation and capping at numerous sites along the Willamette River and across Oregon. Local examples include the Southwest Waterfront and The Fields Neighborhood Park. Engineers will design the consolidation area cap to withstand seismic and storm events.
Regarding a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, the impacts to the greater Portland area and the Willamette River will be significant and devastating, destroying infrastructure along and over the river. While such an earthquake would cause widespread damage to infrastructure and instant loss of life, damage to the consolidation area has relatively low potential to cause immediate harm to human health. If damaged, DEQ would require the property owner to restore the engineered cap.
Why isn’t DEQ requiring more contamination be taken off-site instead of having this as an option for Metro?
DEQ considers the following factors when selecting a cleanup plan: effectiveness, long-term reliability, implementability, implementation risk, and reasonableness of cost. The selected cleanup plan accomplishes equivalent protection to the full removal option, in terms of preventing people, plants and animals from being exposed to contamination. DEQ’s selected cleanup plan also has lower implementation risk because it requires less transportation, which reduces chance of accidents/spills of contaminated material through neighborhoods and across the state. It also minimizes environmental costs, also called carbon footprint.
Why are Metro and the Port of Portland involved?
Metro is the current property owner. DEQ’s cleanup options and ultimate selection are based on how Metro has said they plan to use the property in the future – a nature park with a trail. The Port previously owned and had operated facilities on a portion of the property now owned by Metro. The Port is a responsible party, meaning it is partially responsible for the site’s contamination and is, therefore, partially liable for the upland’s cleanup costs.