After several fits and starts, and about 14 months behind schedule, the Port of Astoria has activated a new stormwater treatment system on Pier 3.
The system is required by the state Department of Environmental Quality to limit copper from entering the Columbia River and harming salmon and other aquatic life.
Pumps throughout the central waterfront move water to a series of settling ponds on the foot of Pier 3. Suspended solids are settled out of the water in the first two ponds, after which it flows to a vegetated area with plants meant to leach out metals and other materials. The treated water is then pumped through a pipe at the end of Pier 3.
Environmental engineering firm Maul Foster Along, which has advised the Port on the project, is planning a kiosk explaining to the public how the system will work.
The kiosk will likely go up within the coming month, said Executive Director Jim Knight.
“It’s been quite the ordeal,” Knight said. “I’m glad that we finally got to this completion stage now.”
The state notified the Port in August 2014 that after testing high for amounts of copper entering the Columbia River, the agency would need to install treatment to get below benchmark levels. The system was required to be active by July 2016, but the Port had not even started construction by that time.
The Port took out a $1.75 million loan to pay for the stormwater system, along with money set aside for developing Pier 3. Conway Construction Co. was awarded the contract to develop the system for $1.83 million.
But Conway eventually went over the original bid, and the cost reached a reported $2.24 million, including pumps, environmental and legal consulting, utilities and land surveys not included in Conway’s portion of the project.
The Port was fined $22,569 in March for not finishing the stormwater treatment system on time, along with an additional $46,750 for not properly monitoring stormwater flows in the 2015-16 monitoring year.
Work on the stormwater treatment system had mostly wrapped up by November 2016, but heavy rains deteriorated much of the berm surrounding the system and compacted the soil, preventing vegetation from taking hold. The delays, cost overruns and fines became a political flash point on the Port Commission. In June, the Port hired Fox Erosion Control to rebuild and revegetate the system before the next rainy season.
“We wanted to make sure that the vegetation that was planted to (treat) soil could retain water once we turned the system on,” Knight said, adding the recent rainfall allowed the Port to see that the system is working.
The Port has been waiting to activate the system before creating a plan to share the cost of the system with customers who lease land where stormwater is treated, including some of the Port’s largest tenants.
The Port is still in the process of appealing both recent fines from the state, Knight said, and confident in lowering the total amount. In lieu of fines, the Port can also take on an environmental improvement project of equal value.
To cover a previous stormwater monitoring fine, the Port paid for a small rain garden in Astoria Middle School.