Tribal Government & News

Portland Harbor Superfund site cleanup begins at Alder Creek

09.15.2014 Dean Rhodes Natural resources


PORTLAND -- Work has started on the 52-acre Alder Creek restoration project, which is within the Portland Harbor Superfund site at the southern tip of Sauvie Island.

The site is in the Tribe's ceded lands and when the project is done it will have a positive effect on the local environment with many cultural benefits for the once devastated harbor.

Alder Creek is the first project designed specifically to benefit fish and wildlife in the Portland Harbor Superfund site. The area used to have abundant habitat but now has little. This project will provide habitat for salmon, lamprey, mink, bald eagle, osprey, and other native fish and wildlife.

Specifically, the restoration will remove buildings and fill from the floodplain, reshape the riverbanks, and plant native trees and shrubs. The project will create shallow water habitat to provide resting and feeding areas for young salmon and lamprey, and foraging for birds, according to a news release from federal, state and Tribal participants in the project.

"The project will also restore beaches and wetlands that give mink access to water and food, and for forests to again have shelter and nesting opportunities for native birds," the press release states.

"Work has started," said Michael Karnosh, manager of the Tribe's Ceded Lands Program and representative for the Tribe on the Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council. The council oversees the restoration work and ultimately approves it, Karnosh said. "Something good is happening."

The harbor was named a Superfund site in 2000. The Trustee Council formed in 2002 to develop and coordinate damage assessment activities at Portland Harbor, and plan for the restoration of natural resources.

Preliminary planning for restoration projects began in 2010. Along with this project, the council has started planning for other projects in the harbor, but this is the first one to reach the construction phase.

"We're hoping it's the first of many," said Karnosh.

Holly Partridge, a member of the Tribe and Ceded Lands specialist, also represents the Tribe. She serves on the Restoration Committee with eight active participants.

Industry representatives and other parties interested in restoration, who are not on the committee, make presentations for projects they want to work on, said Partridge. The committee then makes sure the projects "sit with what we want to do. We make sure the proposals are going to do what advocates for the project say it will. The committee sends projects that meet the criteria to the Trustee Council for approval."

A specialist in Indian law, Partridge contributes technical input to the restoration projects, being sure that they support Tribal cultural and environmental priorities.

An important player in the restoration is a for-profit company, Rocklin, Calif.-based Wildlands, a habitat development and land management company that funds the project and recovers its investment by selling credits to companies that are potentially responsible for contamination in the Portland Harbor. A company's credits can be used to reduce its liability for the cost of cleanup and restoration. With enough credits, these companies can reduce their liability to nothing, said Karnosh.

Wildlands "focuses on creating open market solutions that protect our environment," according to the company website. Through in-house mitigation and conservation banking, Wildlands takes total responsibility for the success of the project.

All of the stakeholders work with Wildlands to ensure the best result.

For the Grand Ronde Tribe, construction of habitat is important, said Karnosh, who also notes that surveying and monitoring juvenile lamprey going through the harbor will uncover a world of new information for the Tribe.

"Through this project," Karnosh said, "we'll get a lot of data on whether lamprey prefer this type of habitat or not. The information is almost nil about juvenile lamprey. The Tribe negotiated for this to be part of the project."

For Partridge, what makes her participation worthwhile is "to get to see that what I do every day translates into the Tribe's cultural interests. The First Salmon ceremony was a huge connection for what I do: to see that it makes a difference for all Tribal members."