While the Port of Astoria has signed a settlement agreement resolve the Oregon Department of State Lands' complaints about the port's most recent dredging activities, the port and state agencies are still working to determine what to do with last season's dredge spoils and how to dredge the port's property this coming season.
In summer 2004, tests showed small amounts of DDT in sediments where the port usually conducts its regular maintenance dredging. Because the levels of the pesticide were too high to return the sediments to the river, as the port usually does post-dredge, the port put the sediments in a holding pond on DSL property on Pier 3. The levels of DDT in the spoils were low enough to be within the acceptable limit for sediments on land.
The port dredged in late February and early March, and as it finished, DSL and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued notices of noncompliance, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality issued the port a cease-and-desist order. Then, in May, DSL issued the port a notice of violation and a fine of $3,600, for allegedly trespassing, putting harmful materials in the waterway, not letting the sediments settle before putting water back in the waterway, and working outside of the regular in-water work window.
The port contested the notice, denying the allegations.
The two agencies recently reached a settlement, even though they still don't agree about possible wrongdoing by the port. As part of the settlement, in addition to paying the $3,600 fine, the port submitted a plan for taking the dredge spoils off DSL's land on Pier 3. The plan hasn't yet been reviewed or approved by DSL, which doesn't want the sediments on its property.
"We don't believe the best use of our state land is as a dredge spoil site," said Steve Purchase, assistant director of land management with DSL.
However, DSL and the port are working on an agreement to lease the DSL land on Pier 3 to the port for use as a public park and vessel haul-out. Purchase said DSL's position is that the lease would stop there and not allow a dredged sediment disposal site on the property, even if the material is technically clean.
While the port and DSL are working out the plan for the Pier 3 sediments and a possible lease, the port and state agencies are also making plans for the next dredging season, which starts in November.
"I'm not sure how all the permits are going to flow for this season, we're working on a number of alternatives," said port Executive Director Peter Gearin. The port is hoping to dredge parts of Slip 1 and dispose of the non-contaminated sediments in the Columbia River's flowlane, as it normally does. For other areas of the slip that tested positive for contaminants, as well as the West Mooring Basin, the port hopes to use a bucket dredge and put the sediments upland, either on port or DSL property.
If DEQ classifies those sediments as clean, the port hopes to use them as fill on Pier 3 to build a wind break for the boatyard, Gearin said, even though Purchase said DSL doesn't want the dirt on their land.
"That's something to work out," Gearin said. Both Gearin and Purchase said the two agencies are cooperating to resolve these issues.
The port is also working with DEQ.
Mark Reeves, a senior environmental engineer with DEQ who works with solid waste permits, said the port is submitting a permit exemption application, which says the sediments are clean and do not need to be handled as solid waste.
"There's different degrees of clean," Reeves said, adding that the agency looks at how the sampling was conducted, if there could be other contaminants or problems, and then determines if the sediments are clean. He said he is still reviewing the exemption application and isn't sure what the outcome will be.
To dredge in the upcoming season, the port also has to meet water quality standards. DEQ claims that the port violated these standards last season, but the port says DEQ has not demonstrated these claims.
The environmental agency is requiring the port to come up with a plan for monitoring and testing the discharge going back into the river, said Christine Svetkovich, who coordinates the 401 water quality certification program. The port has submitted a plan, which still needs some work, Svetkovich said.
These plans and permits for the upcoming dredge season is just part of the ongoing process to allow the port to clear out its marinas and slips, Gearin said, which is a necessity for port business as usual.
"We've just got to get it done," he said.