Tribal Government & News

Feds, state and five Tribes reach $33.2 million Portland Harbor cleanup settlement


By Dean Rhodes

Publications coordinator

PORTLAND – The U.S. Justice Department lodged two proposed consent decrees on Thursday, Nov. 2, in federal court that will force 20 potentially responsible parties at the Portland Harbor Superfund Site to pay an estimated $33.2 million for restoration projects.

The potentially responsible parties will either pay cash damages or purchase credits in projects to restore salmon and other natural resources that were lost due to contamination released from their facilities into the Willamette River.

The settlement also includes more than $600,00 in damages for the public’s lost recreational use of the river, and restoration and monitoring of culturally significant plants and animals.

The settlement includes additional funds to pay for costs incurred by the Portland Harbor Natural Resource Trustee Council, which includes the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and four other Tribes, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the state of Oregon and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Trustee Council has been assessing the harm to injured natural resources.

“This settlement represents years of hard work by the Portland Harbor natural resources trustees and responsible parties who cooperated to restore the harm caused by those parties’ contamination,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The resulting restoration projects funded by these agreements will provide permanent ecological benefits to help restore the biodiversity of the Willamette River system.”

“Contamination has uniquely affected Tribal members because of their cultural use of and relationship with affected natural resources in and around the Portland Harbor Superfund Site,” the five Tribes said in a joint statement. “The five Tribes believe the collaborative process of this settlement represents the best path forward for restoring Portland Harbor natural resources for the benefit of both current and future generations.”

In addition to the Grand Ronde Tribe, the other four Tribes include the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Nez Perce Tribe.

The Grand Ronde Tribe has been a participant in the Trustee Council since 1999, said Tribal Lands Project Administrator Brandy Humphreys. She has been the technical liaison while Senior Staff Attorney Holly Partridge has been the legal advisor.

“This great news is the result of many years of hard work from Tribes and agencies,” Humphreys said. “While there is still a lot of work to go as we continue to work toward compensation for and reversal of the damage that has been done to our natural and cultural resources in the lower Willamette River, Grand Ronde has been participating in this process for more than 24 years and it’s important that we celebrate this exciting time.”

“The trustees are very pleased that the responsible parties in this settlement have advanced restoration over litigation,” said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Curt Melcher. “The large-scale restoration projects facilitated by this settlement will help address the most important habitat needs of fish and wildlife injured by contamination in Portland Harbor.”

The Justice Department said that the use of “restoration credits” in four natural resource projects “is a novel and critical feature of the settlement.”

Restoration credits are like ecological “shares” in a restoration project, and the natural resources trustees determine how many “shares” each project is worth. Settlement defendants can then purchase credits from the restoration project developers instead of paying cash to satisfy the ecological injury portion of their liability.

“Using this approach at Portland Harbor has produced on-the-ground restoration much sooner and at less cost than traditional cash-only settlements,” the Justice Department said.

The four restoration projects – Alder Creek, Harborton, Linnton Mill and Rinearson Natural Area – provide habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon and will restore habitat for other fish and wildlife, as well as Tribally significant native plants like camas and wapato.

The settlement is subject to a 45-day public comment period and final court approval. It can be viewed at