Before industries polluted the lower Willamette, it was a vibrant river ecosystem full of salmon, lamprey, sturgeon, and mink. Bald eagles swept overhead as Native American tribes traveled to the river banks to camp, celebrate, and harvest the Willamette’s bounties. This river was, and continues to be, an integral part of Native American culture. It is also an important habitat for fish and wildlife. Unfortunately, over a hundred years of industrial uses and landfilling activities along the river have resulted in significant contamination that poses a risk to human health and the environment. In December 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated an 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River as a Superfund cleanup site under federal law.
Several groups are working to elevate community voices as the EPA identifies the contamination and develops a cleanup plan for the Willamette River, which is adjacent to many neighborhoods.
In 2015, Crag began to represent the Nez Perce Tribe in the cleanup and restoration of the Portland Harbor Superfund Site. Crag ensures that the Nez Perce can assess the contamination and damages as well as identify appropriate restoration projects that will assist in the recovery of wildlife. Crag also ensures that polluters will be held responsible for their actions, since it is complicated to determine who is at fault for pollution and polluters do not want to pay to clean up the river.
In early 2017, after overwhelming comments from members of the public, tribes, and conservation groups, the EPA moved to a more aggressive clean-up plan for the river. The EPA is now working with potentially responsible parties to establish baseline conditions and sampling plans for cleanup. EPA and the State of Oregon are now developing a watershed-wide review team to identify and reduce toxic contaminants from a various upstream sources as well as sources from within the Superfund Site.
Crag continues to represent the Nez Perce Tribe’s interests as work continues to restore wildlife habitats and ensure river conditions are protective of human health and the environment.