A decision on whether to place the potentially polluted Jeffers Slough property on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s national Superfund list may be pushed back again at the behest of local officials, who say oversight of the property’s cleanup would be better handled by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The Astoria Marine Construction Company (AMCCO), a shipyard and boat repair company located on the east bank of the Lewis and Clark River, was set to be added to the EPA’s national Superfund list of the worst environmentally damaged properties in the country.

Now, the county wants DEQ to oversee the process.

What’s at stake, from the county’s perspective, is the possibility of avoiding the stigma and regulatory burden of having a river-based Superfund site inside its boundaries. AMCCO would still have to pay for much of the environmental cleanup work, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Discussions between the various regulatory agencies, as well as Native American tribal governments that have a vested interest in the Columbia River Basin, are taking place to move the process away from the EPA. The county plans to authorize a letter next week requesting a “Superfund deferral” – placing oversight with the state instead of with the federal government – to side-step the agency’s process.

The letter states that the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners support the switch because DEQ and the county have enjoyed a “positive and successful working relationship with the county.” The letter continues by stating that the county is willing to meet the conditions identified by the EPA.

Keith Johnson, cleanup manager for the Northwest region of DEQ, said the state would oversee the entire environmental investigation and cleanup of the property and would do so in much the same way as the EPA.

“The state has to run the cleanup just like it’s a superfund cleanup,” Johnson said. “Those processes are largely similar.”

Insurance coverage from National Continental Insurance Company will cover the cost of the initial investigation. Much of the environmental damage is thought to have happened decades in the past, possibly when AMCCO was building ships for the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Carson Bowler, an attorney for AMCCO, said two environmental consultants have been hired to investigate groundwater contamination at the property.

Bowler said even with the DEQ in charge, the investigation and cleanup of the 8-acre site will take a long time.

“We’d like to get a large portion of the investigation in the next year,” Bowler said, adding that it could take even longer than that.

Ultimately, placing the property on the federal government’s Superfund list would have a significant negative impact on the estuary, said Clatsop County Manager Duane Cole. Avoiding that is important, he added. For more than a year, the county has tried to avoid having the property listed as a Superfund site.

“We want to see the business preserved and jobs saved,” Cole said. “but we also want to make sure we clean up the site.”


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