Archive for category Administration

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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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.

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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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Industry threats in the face of environmental regulation: Crying wolf, or worth heeding?

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on March 26, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary. There are three comments at the original post.]

A few preliminary thoughts on the most recent discussion related to the Portland River Plan (sources cited below):

T. Alan Sprott wrote an OpEd on March 26. He’s the vice president of Vigor Industrial LLC in Portland and chair of the Working Waterfront Coalition. Reflecting on a lack of consensus with the Portland River Plan, he argues that Read the rest of this entry »

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Recent news about the North Reach, Portland Harbor (March-May 2010)

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on June 7, 2010. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Below are a string of articles from March-May 2010 on the North Reach plan (documented for my own future reference):

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It couldn’t possibly get any more exciting than this!

[Originally published on my blog Historical Threads on March 13, 2011. This version has been refined & corrected, where necessary.]

Of late I’ve been extremely focused on my book project. Today I’ve been immersed in archival sources relating to the City of Portland’s attempts to design, fund, and build a comprehensive sewer interceptor and primary treatment system in the 1920s and 1930s. The story is fantastically complex and I’ve been piecing together the chronology, learning about the motivations and personalities of the key players, trying to condense the key events at the local, state, and national levels in a way that will convey the complexity in an intelligible way.

One of the key elements my book will stress is that while the Willamette River pollution abatement movement was centered in this region and abatement advocates worked within a specific set of technological, political, economic, and ecological systems, the movement at every stage relied upon public and private input. For example, in the 1930s Portland city officials benefited from the expertise of two of the foremost professionals in their field, Harrison P. Eddy of Boston, and Abel Wolman of Baltimore. In 1943, Portland city leaders benefited from the clout of renowned New York City planner Robert Moses to jump-start the sewage system plans that Eddy and Wolman had proposed.

Oregon’s abatement advocates also relied upon funds and research assistance from such federal agencies as the National Resources Planning Board and the Public Works Administration, and regional organizations such as the Pacific Northwest Regional Planning Commission.

As part of my research process, I’ve also discovered an interesting Internet resource:

    ** sewerhistory.org: A collection of materials “related to the history of sewage conveyance systems. Many of these have been displayed in a traveling exhibit entitled “The Collection Systems Historical Photo and Artifacts Display.” The overall collection of sewer history materials covers the era from approximately 3500 BCE through the 1930s CE.”

It’s hard to have more fun with one’s clothes on, let me tell you!

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Smelling One’s Way to Cleaner Water? Comparing pollution abatement in Oregon and Maine

In the most recent issue of Environmental History there is an informative article on mid-twentieth century water pollution abatement in Maine’s Androscoggin River watershed. Author Wallace Scot McFarlane completed an undergraduate thesis at Bowdoin College in 2009, from which he drew the core of his 2012 article. McFarlane “explores how people’s views of science and the environment were reshaped during the transition from localized nuisance control to concerted environmental action, from the 1940s to the 1970s,” and he does so predominately by focusing on the work of a (if not the) prominent abatement figure in the watershed from the 1940s through the 1960s, Dr. Walter A. Lawrance.[1]

McFarlane’s article provides a valuable point of reference to compare and contrast water pollution abatement efforts in Oregon with those in other states and provinces. There are at least two other works that offer a state-to-state comparison of the history of environmental legislation generally, and water quality specifically, in Oregon and Maine.[2] McFarlane’s work effectively builds upon these other sources by focusing on the efforts of a single person intimately involved in the science and administration of water quality; therefore, his article provides details that the other works on Maine do not. McFarlane’s article is also a welcome addition to journal-length studies on water pollution in Washington State, Illinois, British Columbia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Connecticut.[3]

From the second half of the nineteenth century well into the second half of the twentieth, the economies of both Maine and Oregon were heavily reliant upon the heavily-polluting pulp and paper industry, which is another reason why studies of Maine are relevant to the situation in Oregon. Maine’s Androscoggin and Oregon’s Willamette were both impacted significantly for decades from the effects of untreated pulp and paper wastes. (Historian Gregory Summers has written a study of water pollution in another watershed with long connections to the pulp and paper industry, Wisconsin’s Fox River, which I mention here in passing for reference. [4])

Comparing and contrasting events in Maine and Oregon brings to light important details that illustrate, in practical terms, the ways in which people’s values in North America relative to the environment changed over the course of the twentieth century, and how these changes happened differently in different cultural and political settings. Within the realm of water pollution, one can observe that Oregonians were relatively more progressive and proactive than Mainers in that they created their state water quality agency earlier than in Maine, they did so through citizen initiative, and they granted it stronger powers. Further, water quality oversight in Oregon from 1938 through 1967 involved a board of seven that included the head of the State Health Officer, State Engineer, State Sanitary Engineer, and State Fish Commission Chair (in addition to a staff of on-the-ground engineers and technicians) who were financed from the State General Fund and tasked with abating a wide array of industrial and municipal pollutants; oversight in the Androscoggin watershed, in contrast, appears to have been centered on one man whose work was constrained to sulfite pulping wastes only and who was funded to a significant degree by the very industries that produced these wastes. As a result, the Willamette River was significantly cleaner than it had been for decades (in terms of pulp and paper wastes) by the time Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972, and the Androscoggin was not.

Below the fold I’ll provide a brief overview of Walter Lawrance’s work in the Androscoggin watershed and specify the evidence I’ve used to draw my conclusions. Read the rest of this entry »

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Who defines “pollution,” anyway?

“River Looks Bad to Two Parties,” Morning Oregonian, Aug. 5, 1936, p. 3.

The talk I gave last week—”River City Confidential: The Willamette River Pollution Story Revealed“—seemed to have gone well, based upon the feedback I’ve received thus far. I certainly had a great time, and I hope it was both entertaining and educational.

Based upon some of the questions I got at the end of my talk, I should have made clearer at the outset that I was following the lead of pollution abatement advocates themselves in identifying the City of Portland and the five (later seven) pulp and paper mills as the primary polluters in the Willamette watershed. From the 1920s through the 1960s, abatement advocates within and outside of the Oregon State Sanitary Authority were focused on alleviating oxygen-depleting, point-source pollution (from mills and sewage) and bacteria (from raw sewage), because these two sources were by far the most pressing concerns to the river’s health and public health.

I indicated in my presentation that abatement advocates were primarily focused on these two sources of pollution, but that they did not ignore entirely other types of pollution from other sources. From the 1920s, they were also able to measure turbidity, temperature, ph, and other biochemical aspects of water quality, and they worked to abate pollution from meat, vegetable, and flax processing, logging, mining, and other sources.

Regarding other kinds of pollution, it was not until the 1960s that scientists really began to focus on non-point sources of pollution generally. The earliest evidence I have found for specialists’ concern with radiological pollution was in the late 1950s. Dioxin was not a land pollution concern until the Agent Orange issue of the early 1970s, and was not definitively linked to water-borne pollution from pulp and paper mills until the mid 1980s.

In most (if not all) cases, the current complex types of pollution that came to define the Portland Harbor Superfund site did not concern pollution abatement advocates into (and often beyond) the 1960s because the effects of these pollutants were not known, and scientists quite often had not yet developed ways to measure either the pollution or the effects. This knowledge would really only begin to be uncovered in the last decade or so of the period of my talk (from the late 1960s).

From my research in primary and secondary sources, Read the rest of this entry »

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