On November 1, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a proposed settlement of approximately $33 million to compensate the public for decades of hazardous substance releases and oil discharges into Oregon’s Portland Harbor and Willamette River. The proposed settlement addresses the liability of over 20 responsible parties for industrial pollution that damaged wildlife and natural resources and resulted in the loss of recreational opportunities and tribal use of the area.
The proposed settlement is the culmination of longstanding collaboration between federal, state and tribal partners to assess injuries to wildlife and surrounding communities from pollution discharged into Portland Harbor, which is designated as a Superfund site.
The settlement includes several key actions to restore natural resources and human uses:
- The responsible parties will be required to pay for or purchase credits from existing restoration bank projects to restore salmon — a critical component of Pacific Northwest ecosystems and vital to tribal subsistence and culture — and other wildlife in the area.
- More than $600,000 will be dedicated to restoring the public’s recreational use of the river, and restoring and monitoring culturally significant plants and animals.
“NOAA is pleased to join our co-trustees and industry in carrying out restoration projects to benefit salmon and habitats affected by pollution in Portland Harbor and the Willamette River,” said NOAA’s National Ocean Service Director Nicole LeBoeuf. “Not only are habitats restored for salmon, but restoration also benefits tribes in the Pacific Northwest who maintain rich cultural connections to the wildlife and ecosystems of this area.”
This settlement was reached as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process for Portland Harbor. As part of the NRDA process, NOAA — along with federal, state and tribal partners, known as trustees — work with responsible parties to identify negative impacts to natural resources and lost recreational opportunities resulting from pollution. Experts then determine the extent of damage, and — with public input — the best methods, amounts, and locations for restoration activities.
The Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council responsible for this NRDA settlement prioritizes tribal involvement in assessing damages and developing solutions. The Council includes five tribes — 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 the Department of the Interior, NOAA and the State of Oregon.
More details are available from the U.S. Department of Justice press release and NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program.
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