Archive for June, 2013

My view of the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group meeting, April 14, 2010

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on April 5, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

In a previous post, I reported on a meeting I attended of the Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group in December 2009. The present post provides some of my thoughts after attending the April 14, 2010, CAG meeting. Read the rest of this entry »

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Some thoughts on the recent EPA critique of contaminant report from the Lower Willamette Group

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Feb. 10, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are three comments at the original post.]

The information cited below is somewhat reminiscent of the conflict between the City of Portland (CoP) and the Oregon State Sanitary Authority (OSSA) in the late 1950s regarding the city’s inadequate treatment of its sewage. The OSSA (and other abatement advocates such as the local chapters of the Izaak Walton League and the City Club of Portland) were pushing the CoP to implement secondary sewage treatment, because the city’s then-current primary treatment regime was insufficient to ensure adequate dissolved oxygen in and north of city limits. However, CoP leaders (Mayor Schrunk, et al.), balked at making these costly upgrades. So, the OSSA took the city to court and by 1961 forced the city to propose a tax levy and expand their sewage treatment infrastructure.

At least one place where this general pattern breaks down, however, is that pollution related to sewage is significantly less complex to deal with than the current issues with persistent, toxic, and bio-accumulative chemicals.

Ah, makes me wistful for the good ol’ days of floating feces and toilet paper . . .

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Scott Learn, “Milestone report on Portland Harbor pollution lowballs risk, EPA says,” Oregonian Jan. 22, 2010, p. B8.

Key excerpts:

“EPA officials say the October report from the Lower Willamette Group prematurely rules out some harbor contaminants as threats to wildlife and overstates uncertainties about the pollution’s risk to human health.”

“The dispute is important: The lower the risks of harbor pollution in Willamette River sediment, the less cleanup work the group’s members and other harbor landowners will have to do.”

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Portland’s Zidell Marine site on the South Waterfront

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Jan. 3, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

The Oregonian recently ran two articles (here and here) about the Zidell Marine site in Portland’s South Waterfront area. The site is on the west side of the Willamette, bisected by the Ross Island Bridge and abutting the north edge of all those new towers down there.

The issues raised in this and this article involve at least two complex and longstanding themes that reflect society’s changing values. One theme is the conflict that often arises as land uses change over time, pitting long-established uses with more economically lucrative development opportunities. The other is the need to clean up environmental hazards based on previous land uses. It’s here at the pivotal moments of these changes & conflicts that we historians like to poke around a bit, write up some things, and, thereby, try to make some sense of.

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Healing Portland Harbor after the clean-up

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Dec. 10, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There is one comment at the original post.]

I went to a Portland Harbor Community Advisory Group meeting last night at which was discussed the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. Tonight there will be a forum for public commentary on the NRDA that was presented last night; I won’t be able to attend this meeting due to prior commitments.

First, an overview of what I learned at this meeting; second, some thoughts spurred by what I learned.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Complex problems require multiple and coordinated approaches

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Dec. 6, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

As Willamette River Keepers’ Travis Williams writes in Sunday’s Oregonian, “in order to make the Willamette function more naturally and to make it cleaner, multiple actions, involving a variety of approaches, must be taken.” These include the restoration efforts outlined in Joe Whitworth’s recent article.

Additionally, Williams observes that “Given enough teamwork, patience and persistence, we can help create a healthy, naturally functioning and clean river for people and wildlife.” I appreciate this positive attitude. David Charlton, Tom McCall, Ed Averill, William Joy Smith, and many other clean streams advocates held this same view as they worked toward alleviating Willamette River pollution beginning in the 1920s.

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“Rivers and streams are nature’s sewer systems”

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Dec. 4, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Below you’ll find the text of an interesting Letter to the Editor from John Beau in response to the Oregonian article “Evolve or die? It’s crunch time for the Willamette” (that I posted an entry about a few days ago), and a response to Mr. Beau by “dtroutma.”

Considering this Letter to the Editor and the comment to it, I want to discuss four points:

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Portland’s ca. 2009 sewer shortcomings echo Portland’s ca. 1958-1961 sewer shortcomings

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Nov. 12, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are two comments at the original post.]

Francis Storr, 2007, Creative Commons

An Oregonian article from November 11, 2009, suggests that Portland’s expenditures on infrastructure to keep sewage from the Willamette River and Columbia Slough may be insufficient to achieve environmental standards [Scott Learn, “Portland in potentially costly tussle with EPA over sewer plant.”]. To summarize the main points:

1) Portland’s existing sewage infrastructure is insufficient to achieve environmental standards;

2) A government agency is pushing Portland to expend more money on the city’s sewage infrastructure and will hold a hearing on the topic in a couple of weeks;

3) City officials assert that these stipulations are onerous and threaten to push citizen’s sewage disposal costs to exorbitant levels; and

4) This city official asks of the government agency pushing for these changes whether the agency will give Portland credit for the work they’ve already done, “or are you just going to pick up a different bat to hit us with?”

Hmmmm . . . let us enter the time machine now, and go back to the late 1950s (as documented in my MA thesis, “Working for the ‘Working River’: Willamette River Pollution, 1926-1962,” Portland State University, 2009) . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Willamette River solutions, version 2009

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Nov. 30, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Image from National Resources Committee Special Advisory Committee on Water Pollution, Water Pollution in the United States (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1939).

There were two noteworthy pieces on efforts to restore the Willamette River in the Sunday Oregonian, both by Joe Whitworth.

The first is titled “Evolve or Die: It’s Crunch Time for the Willamette.” This article begins by noting the rate of snow pack loss in the Cascades since 1955, which directly impacts the flow of the tributaries of the Willamette River and, therefore, the flow of the Willamette, which, in turn, degrades habitat and concentrates pollution. Whitworth concludes the article by describing a new system of managing and fast-tracking stream enhancement projects that could help us rectify stream quality issues in a wide-ranging and coordinated manner. He writes:

the consequences of how we’ve used our watersheds and waterways have come into focus: Runoff of pollutants, erosion and overheated streams mean degraded water quality and impaired aquatic habitat. Because tributaries and rivers operate like veins and arteries, good spots here and there cannot correct accumulated negative impacts. We need contiguous, functioning stream zones that sweep across whole basins if we hope to correct current downward trajectories for fish, water quality and even economic prosperity.

Whitworth’s second article is titled “An Oregon Roadmap for Healthier Rivers.” This shorter article outlines how new technologies and approaches introduced in Oregon to improve water quality can become a national model.

Whitworth describes a watershed-level approach to water quality that has its roots in the efforts of the New Deal National Resources Committee (NRC) from the 1930s.[1] After reviewing below highlights from some of these efforts between the 1930s and early 1960s, a cynic could say that the process that Whitworth outlines and advocates for is just another in a long line of efforts, and yet the river continues to degrade. An optimist might say that our approaches are getting increasingly more refined and, therefore, perhaps we’re finally getting closer to a lasting solution. Based on the historical evidence below, I’ll let the reader decide . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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Willamette River hydrologic & geographic changes over time

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on Dec. 16, 2009. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

The image above came from p. 4 of Portland’s Willamette River Atlas, and it shows a fascinating comparison of the lower Willamette River in 1888 (left) and 2001. This map shows the significant hydrologic and topographic changes to the river over the past 130 years or so.

Compare these two images and you’ll see how we have filled-in lakes, covered-over streams, and channelized the main stem of the river. Check out all of the former lakes at the northern limits of Portland and on the north Portland peninsula, most of which have disappeared since the late nineteenth century. Also note that Swan Island (in the center of each map) is no longer an island.

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Swimming in the Willamette River in and near Portland

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on March 26, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

For quite a number of weeks now I’ve intended to finalize this post about swimming in the Willamette River in and near Portland Harbor. Two discussions about swimming in the river can be found at this Portland Mercury Blogtown post, and at this archived “Think Out Loud” program from Oregon Public Radio.

Now, for some historical context . . . Read the rest of this entry »

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