The Port of Astoria is nearing the settlement of a multidecade argument on how to clean up historical petroleum contamination along the central waterfront.

The Port Commission will likely vote at its next meeting to accept a $2.9 million settlement with McCall Oil & Chemical Corp. and ExxonMobil. The other option is to take the oil companies to court for a better deal, a course the Port’s attorneys have advised against.

Deal reached on Port oil cleanup

The Port of Astoria is preparing to accept a $2.9 million settlement from oil companies to build a permeable barrier to treat and prevent petroleum from seeping into the Columbia River between piers 1 and 2.

Will Isom, the Port’s executive director, described the situation as a black cloud hanging over the agency.

“It’s a huge liability that hasn’t been dealt with,” he said. “It won’t create any revenue, but it needs to be taken care of for the Port to move forward.”

Bulk oil, manufacturing and other heavy industrial operations that used to sustain the Port have left left behind underground pipes, tanks and pockets of pollution under the docks. In the late 1990s, an oil sheen appeared on the river between piers 1 and 2, where the Port deployed a boom to prevent it from spreading.

The state initiated a remedial investigation in 2001 and has since overseen cleanup. The main sources were identified as a former ExxonMobil/Niemi Oil Co. bulk plant, a McCall pipeline, an underground storage tank previously operated by the Port and other nearby pipelines.

The state Department of Environmental Quality recently determined the Port, McCall and ExxonMobil should excavate contaminated soil and place a permeable cap over the polluted area. Monitoring wells would provide feedback on the cleanup’s progress.

Estimates for the permeable cap and post-construction monitoring have surpassed $3.5 million, leaving the cash-strapped Port with yet another large liability on its books, not to mention the percentage of the settlement that will go to attorneys. The agency has to first make sure the cleanup comes in under budget, then find ways to mitigate the cost moving forward with state and federal grants, Isom said.

The Port Commission has the option of going to court with the oil companies. But Dirk Rohne, the president of the Port Commission, doesn’t see that as a viable option and is recommending fellow commissioners take the settlement.

“It’s not a big win, but it’s sort of taking care of business,” Rohne said. “It’s our hope, in the spirit of collaboration, that we’ll be able to move forward with federal and state stakeholders.”

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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