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Another delay in Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup plan.

A new delay in planning for the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup could push a resolution to the work even further into the future.

In November, a group of federal Environmental Protection Agency experts from across the country, called the National Remedy Review Board, convened in Portland to study the best ideas currently on the table for remediating the muck under the Willamette River, where toxic chemicals from heavy industry have accumulated over the last hundred years.

Their recommendations will "carry serious weight in the EPA's final cleanup plan, which it's expected to issue by December 2016, said EPA spokesman Mark MacIntyre. But the NRRB's final report, which was to be received and responded to by the the EPA by the end of this month, has now been pushed to the end of January.

That could delay even further a cleanup process that has already been beset by delays.

For its part, EPA is standing by its schedule, still fully expecting to deliver a record of decision by 2016, MacIntyre said, though "there will be some slide" on the timeline for getting the NRRB comments and making them available.

But any extensions of that deadline could threaten to extend the process even further, possibly years. If pushed into 2017, the decision shifts into a new presidential administration that--whether Democrat or Republican--is likely to put a whole new team in place, meaning a fresh EPA management group would lead the Superfund cleanup. Those managers would be unlikely to move quickly to implement a plan they know little to nothing about.

Another potentially detrimental element of the process is the timing for the public process.

EPA's preferred cleanup plan is expected by early April. When that comes out, the public will have 60 days to comment. But public comments that prompt the agency to revisit its preferred cleanup alternatives could have a significant impact on the schedule, said Kevin Parrett, manager of the state Department of Environmental Quality's cleanup and tanks section who is working on the Superfund site.

Public officials are already concerned that 60 days isn't enough time for gathering public comments. City Commissioner Nick Fish, speaking earlier this month on a panel about the Superfund site, called the comment period "a pretty tight window."

Noting that public processes like this are likely not the EPA's strongest suit, Fish said the city has suggested bringing in a third-party planning firm to structure the public process.

He's also worried the public does not know nearly enough about the cleanup plans, and that the issue is not on his constituents' radar.

"We cannot afford to lose this momentum, and the last thing we need is to not have a record of decision in place, and then have turnover with a new administration," Fish said. "With a new cast of characters, all that would do is set back the clock in terms of the timeline."

MacIntyre said EPA will start a "full-court press" for public outreach, along with DEQ, during the first week of the new year.

"People will get a much clearer picture" about the process and how to get involved, but it's still too early to share those details, MacIntyre said.

Source: James Cronin, Portland Business Journal

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Publication:Hazardous Waste Superfund Alert
Date:Jan 18, 2016
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