Courtesy Lower Willamette Group
An EPA cleanup plan for the Portland Harbor Superfund site, Portland, Oregon, has been condemned by the Yakama Nation. The comment period ends on August 8.

Fish-Protect Fail: Yakama Slam EPA Portland Harbor Superfund Cleanup Plan

Terri Hansen

A proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plan for the cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund site does not include remediation of the lower Columbia River and has thus been met with condemnation by the Yakama Nation.

While the plan proposes to clean up eight percent of the contaminated Willamette River site in Portland, it proposes natural recovery as a solution for swathes of the river, and completely ignores toxic chemicals that flow from the Willamette directly into the lower Columbia River into areas fished by the river’s treaty fishing tribes.

RELATED: Oregon Tribes Await Superfund Attention for Portland Harbor Site

Instead of cleaning up the site to protective levels, the Yakama say, the cleanup will instead rely on restricting people’s fish consumption.

According to the EPA proposal, the contamination at the site poses unacceptable risk to human health and the environment due to the presence of a variety of toxic contaminants. The document states there are 64 contaminants at the site, with most of the human health and ecological dietary risks attributed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, furans, and pesticides.

Yakama Nation Tribal Council members and the Chairman of the General Council met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in Washington, D.C. on July 25 to urge the agency to do more to ensure that fish downstream from the Portland Harbor Superfund site are protected and safe to eat.

Left to right, the Washington delegation: Yakama General Council Chair Davis Washines, Yakama Tribal Council Vice-Chair Delano Saluskin, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, Yakama Fish & Wildlife Committee Chair Gerald Lewis, and Yakama Law & Order Committee Chair Virgil Lewis. (Photo: Courtesy Yakama Nation)

“The cleanup of Portland Harbor is absolutely critical to ensuring that the Yakama people have healthy fish that is safe to feed our families,” Gerald Lewis, chair of Yakama Nation Tribal Council’s Fish & Wildlife Committee, said in a statement. “The EPA must do more to uphold our treaty fishing rights which have been repeatedly affirmed by the highest courts of the land.”

In the same statement Delano Salsukin, Vice-Chairman of Yakama Tribal Council, said the proposed plan relies too much on natural recovery and as such is not a solution to protect a healthy fishery.

“It will result in more contaminants traveling downstream to the Columbia River,” Salsukin said.

RELATED: Yakama Nation Challenges Willamette River Polluters to Clean and Protect Lower Columbia River

Well over a decade ago, Yakama tribal leaders traveled to D.C. to advocate for both rivers’ cleanup.

“Everything that is in the lower Willamette and sediment flows downhill into the Columbia, directly or through the Multnomah Channel,” Yakama Nation Fisheries Regional Superfund Projects Manager Rose Longoria told ICTMN at the time.

The Yakama Nation withdrew from the Portland Harbor Trustee Council in 2009 over concerns that remediation of damages to natural resources would not extend to the injury and damages to natural resources in the lower Columbia River. The Yakama Nation and community partners have created a letter-writing website, Clean Up Portland Harbor, to urge the EPA to implement a more aggressive cleanup plan. The public comment period for the plan continues through September 6.

“Fishing isn’t just a right on paper for us, it’s a part of who we are and how we live,” Yakama Tribal Council member Virgil Lewis said in the tribe’s statement, adding that the plan violates the treaty that reserves their right to a meaningful fishery where tribal members can harvest healthy fish that are safe to eat. “Our expectation is that the EPA will revise this plan to protect our people, our fish, and our way of life. In doing so, the general population of the region will also benefit as will the economy.”

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