Oregon, Washington issue Columbia River fish warning

Originally published September 23, 2013Health officials in Oregon and Washington said Monday that people should protect themselves against mercury and PCB contamination by limiting consumption of certain fish species from a 150-mile section of the Columbia River.

The Oregon Health Authority and the Washington Department of Health said people should eat no more than one meal a week of resident fish — those that live year-round in the same place — between Bonneville and McNary dams. Resident species in the Columbia include bass, bluegill, yellow perch, crappie, walleye, carp, catfish, suckers and sturgeon.

A meal is defined as a piece of fish the size and thickness of one’s hand.

Officials also recommend not eating any resident fish taken between Bonneville Dam and Ruckel Creek, one mile upstream.

The advisory does not apply to migratory fish, such as salmon and steelhead, because they spend most of their time at sea.

“We’ve suspected for quite some time that there may be contamination in the Columbia River, and the thing that was missing was measured data,” said Dave Farrer, public health toxicologist for the Oregon Health Authority.

Only recently have researchers had the resources available to measure toxicity in Columbia River fish, he said.

The states said they’re unsure how long the advisory will last.

Source:  http://www.columbian.com/news/2013/sep/23/oregon-washington-issue-columbia-river-fish-warnin/

Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are toxic chemicals that do not break down in the environment. They were widely used in electronic components until they were banned in the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Officials advised against eating any resident fish caught near Bonneville Dam after researchers measured extraordinarily high levels of PCB contamination in resident fish there. The most contaminated sample measured 183 parts per million, Farrer said, and the threshold for an advisory is 0.047 ppm.

Upstream from Bonneville, mercury is the concern, Farrer said.

Mercury and PCBs build up over time. Developing fetuses, nursing infants and small children are most vulnerable to their negative health effects, so it’s especially important that women of child-bearing age heed the advisories, officials said.

Officials recommend pregnant women eat migratory fish for the beneficial protein, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients.

“The message isn’t to not eat fish at all,” Farrer said. “We want people, especially pregnant women, to eat fish. We just want them to choose fish correctly. We hope these advisories are a good tool to help them.”

Monday’s announcement drew an immediate response from Northwest tribes, who called on state and federal leaders to find long-term solutions that improve water quality.

“The new advisories once again pass the burden of responsibility from industry and government to tribes and people in the region,” Yakama Nation Chairman Harry Smiskin said in a released statement. “Rather than addressing the contamination, we are being told to reduce our reliance on the Columbia River’s fish. This is unacceptable.

“The focus should not be ‘do not eat’ — it should be ‘clean up’ the Columbia River.”

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which includes the Yakama Nation, has urged Washington and Idaho to beef up their water quality standards. Oregon adopted new rules in 2011 that are among the most stringent in the country.

Source: http://www.columbian.com/news/2013/sep/23/oregon-washington-issue-columbia-river-fish-warnin/

Ocean of Change: Changing chemistry of seawater poses lethal threat to marine life

Published:  Sept. 22


Oregon fishermen tell stories of strange events on the Pacific Ocean that have made them shudder over the past half dozen years.

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on the state’s north coast watched oyster larvae die en masse for three years in a row in the mid-2000s — depriving oyster farms along the entire West Coast of seed oysters.

Florence crabber Al Pazar saw baby octopuses, an inch or two long, climb up his crab lines to escape the sea waters in the 2005 season. When he pulled up his pots, the crab were dead.

Eugene fisherman Ryan Rogers, who drags in great piles of salmon on an Alaska purse seiner, has instead brought up nets full of jellyfish in recent years.

“Sometimes we’ll catch 4,000 or 5,000 pounds of jellyfish. They spray all around. We get stung,” he said. “It makes it difficult to bring your net in. You have to let it go and lose the salmon that are in your net.”

Scientists — including many at Oregon State University — are beginning to define the cause of these events. They call it ocean acidification and hypoxia.

Wind, currents and ocean chemistry conspire to create pools of corrosive waters that can be lethal to key commercial species in Northwest waters — and favorable to some nuisance species, such as jellyfish.

The die-off of coral reefs has been publicized everywhere from Australia to the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean. But less well known are the problems surfacing on the West Coast of North America — where people may have more cause to worry.

“Scientists are learning that ocean acidification is hitting waters off the West Coast earlier and harder than elsewhere on the planet,” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said recently.

Kitzhaber in August appointed five Oregon State University scientists to a multistate panel that’s charged with determining the extent, causes and effects of ocean acidification along the Pacific coast.

Acidification is a potential threat to shellfish and other marine life and also to thousands of jobs that depend on them, according to the governor, so the state needs a clearer understanding of what’s happening in Oregon’s waters.

Oyster growers, crabbers and fishermen have reported losses in the millions related to the strange events.

“Equally evil twin”

The precise cause is poorly understood but, study-by-study, experts in chemical and physical oceanography, biogeochemistry, marine biology, ecology and physiology are building a picture of the problem.

They theorize that acidification is spurred by a rapid increase in the amount of carbon dioxide taken up by the ocean, which sets off a chemical reaction that sours the waters. Scientists estimate that the world’s seas are 30 percent more acidic than they were before the industrial revolution 200 years ago.

Top marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco, who’s on leave from OSU to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls ocean acidification the “equally evil twin” of climate change. Both involve excess carbon dioxide and both are inhospitable to life.

Readings taken out in the center of the Pacific show fluctuations around an average that is stepping ever upward, said George Waldbusser, a professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry at OSU. But the coastline of Oregon and Washington see higher levels of acidity because deep ocean currents drive cold, acidified waters from the east Pacific to the west.

Each May and June, winds along the Oregon Coast switch directions and begin shoving warm surface waters away from the shore, and that allows upwellings of those cold deep waters, which are devoid of oxygen and dangerous to sea life.

Scientists call it “hypoxia,” which means devoid of oxygen. Fishermen call these areas “dead zones” because the sea life that can swim away does and those creatures that can’t die.

In 2006, a dead zone off Oregon covered 1,800 square miles of ocean and lasted for four months, according to an OSU report.

This and other “severe episodes” make Oregon an excellent research subject, OSU assistant professor Francis Chan said at the most recent meeting of the governor-appointed West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.

Shells and brains

In the past half dozen years, science has focused on the effect of acidification on Northwest marine life, including oysters, pollock and tiny sea snails called pteropods.

Oyster larvae strain to make their protective shells in acidic waters and if the pH — scale of acidity and alkalinity in water — drops too low they die. Any other shell-building sea creature is vulnerable to the same problem.

“I am totally worried about it,” Portland-based Nature Conservancy ecologist Dick Vander Schaaf said. “You need to have juveniles to have more oysters. We’re very concerned about barnacles and their ability to form shells.”

Besides young oysters, shell builders include clams, abalone, scallops, sand dollars and sea stars. Crabs, too, build skeletons on the outside, so they could eventually be harmed.

Steve Rumrill, the shellfish program leader at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, worries about razor clams, mussels, Dungeness crab and red sea urchins.

Acidification also affects tiny organisms that float in the waves and serve as feed stock for fish — of all sizes — and even whales.

Rumrill, for example, worries about the microscopic larval form of Dungeness crab, which hang in the water column and feed coho salmon and gray whales. And pteropods dissolve when sea water gets too acidic, studies show. They are a chief staple of pink salmon.

“We are really in the infancy of understanding the extent of this problem — and it’s one that’s going to outlast all of us,” Rumrill said.

An early study on how corrosive waters affect fish was done in Australia on clownfish, like Nemo. The orange-and-white fish normally stick close to protective reefs, but in acidic waters they wander, including into the jaws of predators.

Newport-based scientist Thomas Hurst ran tests on juvenile walleye pollock at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. In acid waters, their brain signals were so scrambled that they couldn’t seem to recognize their regular foods. The result ultimately may be bad news for surimi eaters.

For fishermen, the news is strange and unsettling. Newman’s Fish Co. owner Dwight Collins wearies of the trail of news stories that follow each new discovery.

“This whole climate change, and such, some days I don’t even want to read about it because it is so scary,” he said.

Whiskey Creek discovery

The big break in scientific understanding of ocean acidification, though, happened in an oyster hatchery on the north Oregon Coast over the past five years. Hatcheries raise larval oysters in mammoth tanks until they form shells and can be planted in the ocean to grow to harvestable size.

But the larvae at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery at Netarts Bay, near Tillamook, inexplicably began dying at an alarming rate — 70 to 80 percent — each year for three years, said Waldbusser, the OSU professor.

The oyster die-offs at Whiskey Creek were dire for the entire $100 million West Coast oyster industry, he said.

“Most of the independent growers on the West Coast get their oyster larvae from that hatchery,” Waldbusser said.

“Growers would call up the hatchery and say, ‘We want seed’ and they had to tell them, ‘We don’t have any.’ Imagine if you were growing corn and you called up the seed supplier and they said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any corn for you to grow.”

At first, the hatchery thought it was a disease that was killing the larvae. But treatments didn’t help. The hatchery’s scientist, Alan Barton, had a hunch that the acidity of the sea waters from Netarts Bay that supplied the hatchery’s tanks was killing the larvae.

He contacted OSU chemical oceanographer Burke Hales, who in 2010 lent the hatchery monitoring equipment that could test the acidity of the waters. Subsequent experiments found that treating the tank waters with sodium carbonate, basically Tums, reduced the larval deaths.

With OSU’s monitoring equipment, the hatchery learned to react when the pH started dropping into the acidic zone. Measurements over time helped it pinpoint hourly, daily and monthly fluctuations in acidity.

“Funny story,” Waldbusser said, when Hales asked for return of the (OSU) equipment for a research project, “the hatchery basically said, ‘Too bad we’re keeping it.’”

The hatchery’s misfortune brought critical insights to the scientists.

“There’s a window of time that (larvae) appear to be very sensitive to acidification, but if there is enough carbon dioxide in the water, even the later stages of larvae are going to be sensitive,” Waldbusser said. At some point on the pH scale, the shells of adult shellfish would be compromised, he said.

Washington takes note

The discovery in the Whiskey Creek tanks was the first straight-line connection between ocean acidification and damage to marine life — and demonstration of harm to a food source and an industry. Losses to oyster growers were on the order of $100 million, Waldbusser said.

“The work that we’ve been doing here in Oregon at the hatchery has helped really pave the way for a lot of other places to start addressing the issue,” he said. “I’m really proud of that work we’ve done.”

The Northwest shellfish industry — the bulk of it located on Puget Sound and Willapa Bay in Washington — took the lessons at Whiskey Creek to heart. In February 2012, then-Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification that wrote an action plan to combat the problem.

The Washington Legislature, based on the panel’s recommendations, invested $1.82 million in a new center on ocean acidification at the University of Washington to study the problem and aid shellfish growers.

But some oyster growers were too worried to wait around for science. Goose Point Oyster Co. in Willapa Bay, for example, didn’t want to rely on just the Whiskey Creek hatchery. The company, instead, built its own hatchery at Hilo, Hawaii, far away from upwellings and dead zones. When the seed oysters are ready, the company ships them home to Willapa Bay.

Search for solutions

The hunt for immediate ways to protect the Northwest shellfish industry is on.

Scientists want to be able to make short-term predictions about when acidification is on the rise so hatcheries can turn off their water intakes or otherwise protect their brood.

The Washington panel recommended a selective breeding program for shellfish aimed at creating new breeds of oysters that are resistant to acid waters.

Another strategy: oyster shell recycling.

In acidic waters, the shells, which contain calcium carbonate, slowly dissolve and buffer the waters around the seeded oysters — again it’s the “Tums effect,” Waldbusser said.

Shell recycling projects that collect shells from oyster houses and seafood processors have existed for years in Maryland, Virginia and most recently in Louisiana, where New Orleans restaurants contribute mountains of shells. Northwest oyster shells generally go to landfills.

The Washington panel debated introducing shell recycling to the Northwest, but there’s an issue that made participants wary. It’s herpes, basically, Waldbusser said. California oyster growers have been plagued with the virus, but it hasn’t spread to the Northwest.

Imported California oysters shells could get in the mix and infect Northwest oysters.

“It’s a real issue. You don’t want to contaminate or infect populations in Washington or Oregon,” Waldbusser said. Recyclers on the East Coast exposed recycled shells to sunlight for months before returning them to the sea, but that treatment is not yet proven to stop disease, Waldbusser said.

Overall, these short- term steps might help a bit with rising acidity — the Washington panel referred to them as “buying time.”

“But that’s only going to carry us so far,” Waldbusser said. “Fundamentally, at the base of it, we have to address carbon dioxide emissions. That’s not going to change.”

The increased carbon dioxide in the ocean is related to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, studies suggest.

Waldbusser is not prepared to pin the problem on climate change caused by greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels — mostly in car engines — but time will tell.

“There’s predictions that the timing and intensity of upwellings will become worse with climate change on our coast,” he said.

The Washington panel doesn’t mince words: It’s No. 1 conclusion is that carbon dioxide emissions are the most significant driver of ocean acidification.

The solutions are the same ones recommended for curbing climate change: large scale deployment of plug-in vehicles, car sharing, mileage-based insurance, low-carbon fuel standards, transportation planning, energy efficiency standards, weatherization and solar panels.

Source: http://www.registerguard.com/rg/news/local/30407375-75/ocean-waters-acidification-coast-oregon.html.csp

Clackamas Watershed Collects Pollutants And Drinking Water

Cassandra Profita / OPB

Water intake for Lake Oswego


Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey have found 63 different pesticides and herbicides in the Clackamas River Basin. And testing shows some of those chemicals are winding up in the drinking water communities take from the river.


Sam Doane sits on the Clackamas River Basin Council, which looks out for water quality. So he knows about potential sources of pollution in the water. He’s also a horticulturist with Frank J. Schmidt & Son Nursery, so he’s working to reduce the potential for pesticide runoff on his land.


“We live in an environment where there are a number of streams and rivers adjacent to the property, and we need to be cognizant of what’s happening in those streams and rivers,” he said.


The city of Lake Oswego plans to double the amount of water it takes from the river and is building a larger intake system.


Doane spent two years testing the smart sprayer at his nursery in the Upper Clackamas River basin. The result was a 65 percent reduction in pesticide use.


“That’s 65 percent less material that has the potential to be an environmental concern,” said Doane.


Many miles downstream from Doane’s nursery, Kim Swan is one of the people concerned about pesticides on the Clackamas.


She works for the Clackamas River Water Providers – a group that represents nearly 400,000 people who rely on the river for drinking water. The group includes the cities of Lake Oswego, West Linn, Oregon City, Estacada, Gladstone, Happy Valley, Damascus and a lot of the surrounding rural communities.


Swan says a lot of her customers think their water is coming from the protected watershed of Portland’s Bull Run.


“The Bull Run is unique because it’s a much smaller watershed and it’s protected. The public doesn’t have access. There’s no agriculture, no logging,” Swan says.


But the Clackamas watershed is different.


“Our watershed, on the other hand, is very large. It’s approximately 940 square miles.”


Swan points out that on the many miles upstream from drinking water intakes on the Clackamas, there are nurseries, timberland, wastewater treatment plants, houses with septic systems, golf courses and state and county roads.



Water testing in the river reveals numerous pollutants that could be coming from any of those places. Those pollutants include pesticides, gasoline components and flame retardants. But it’s hard to trace the chemicals to any one source.


For Doane, reduction of pesticide use is one answer. In recent years his nursery has reduced its pesticide use by 50 percent even without the smart sprayer. But the new technology could further reduce the potential for runoff.


“I’m really excited about it. I think it provides a great opportunity for growers and landowners and the community at large to reduce environmental impact from pesticide use,” Doane says.


Of the 63 different pesticides and herbicides detected in the Clackamas River Basin, 15 of them were still present in treated drinking water samples.


The levels were really low, and they didn’t exceed any of the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency for what is safe to drink. In some cases, the amount of pesticide was less than 1 part per trillion, which is the equivalent of one drop in 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.


Growers at the Hans Nelson Nursery in Boring spray water on rows of trees to compare the coverage offered by conventional pesticide sprayers with a new “smart” pesticide sprayer.


Kurt Carpenter is a researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey. He did the drinking water studies of Clackamas River water and says the results still raise concerns. Many of the chemicals detected in Clackamas drinking water aren’t regulated at all by safe drinking water laws. So their potential health effects haven’t been studied – especially when you mix them together.


“So, when you find a contaminant at these exceedingly low levels, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not going to have an effect – especially when you have two or three different chemicals that might be acting together in an additive or synergistic fashion,” Carpenter says. “It just raises a lot of questions about what does it mean when these things are detected at all.”


In response to the findings, the communities that take their drinking water from the Clackamas are working on ways to prevent pollution before it gets into the river. Swan, who heads the water provider organization, has commissioned detailed maps of aging septic systems upstream that might be at risk of leaking. She’s organized pesticide and pharmaceutical drug collection events. And she’s looked at offering financial incentives for farmers upstream to get organically certified.


“When studies like this come out we’ll often get calls from our customers saying ‘What’s this? What are you doing about it?’ We tell them that we’re aware of it. That we’re trying to be proactive. That our treatment plants have the ability to treat for most of this stuff. Our goal is to not let them get worse,” Swan says.


Despite the potential threats to drinking water on the Clackamas, communities still see the river as a great drinking water source for the future. So great, in fact that they’re asking to take more water from the river.


On the riverbank near Gladstone, workers drive piles for a new water intake facility. The city of Lake Oswego has plans to double the amount of water it takes from the river. And to do that, it will need a bigger intake system.


“Our water system was built in the 1960s,” says Jane Heisler, spokeswoman for the Lake Oswego Tigard Water Partnership,  “and we have had a few summers in the last five years or so where we’re bumping up against the max we can deliver with our current system.”


Lake Oswego currently has access to 16 million gallons a day of Clackamas River water. But in the future it plans to tap its full 38 million gallons a day in water rights and sell some of that water to the city of Tigard to pay for the new intake and an advanced water treatment plant.


“We don’t expect that we’ll need that water for many, many years, but at some point in the future we will,” Heisler says.


Other communities are looking to the Clackamas for more water as well. Some are preparing for growth in response to Metro’s expansion of the urban growth boundary into the Happy Valley and Damascus area.


Three other municipalities have applied to further develop their water rights on the river. Altogether, the requests add up to a water demand of 150 cubic feet per second.


That volume has environmentalists worried.


“We’ve already got a critical problem out there.”


John DeVore is the executive director of the environmental group Water Watch.


He’s worried about the impact of additional water withdrawals to three threatened species of salmon and steelhead on the river.


“If we take more water out of the river, scientists have said we’re going to reach flow levels that are too low for fish. So we’re trying to prevent flow levels from getting that low.”


DeVore’s group has gone to court to prevent Lake Oswego, Tigard and three other municipalities from removing water from the river when it’s needed for fish.


The case has made it to the state court of appeals. Oral arguments are expected sometime this fall.

Source: http://www.opb.org/news/article/clackamas-watershed-collects-pollutants-and-drinking-water/

Baker City shuts off second water source over positive test for parasite that sickened many

August 09, 2013 – 3:22 pm EDT



BAKER CITY, Oregon — Baker City officials have shut off another source of city water as a result of a positive test for cryptosporidium, the parasite that sickened many residents.

The discovery this week of cryptosporidium in water from a mountain stream named Elk Creek adds to the mystery over the contamination, The Baker City Herald (http://bit.ly/15kceSW) reported.

The parasite causes severe diarrhea. State and local officials say 300 to 400 people were ill.

Animal feces is the usual source of cryptosporidium. When the illness started in late July, the city suspected water from a lake where mountain goats congregate and stopped drawing from it.

Much of the city’s water comes from diversions from streams such as Elk Creek. Public Works Director Michelle Owen the city’s watershed manager inspected the Elk Creek diversion July 31 and found no evidence cattle had been in the area. She said the namesake animals, elk, are known to roam the upper part of the creek’s drainage.

City officials say they’re increasingly concerned about adequate supplies and have asked water users to be sparing.

They’ve also advised residents to boil water used for drinking and tooth care.

Dr. Bill Keene, the senior state epidemiologist, said that if the city’s water is determined to be the source of the cryptosporidium, the most plausible theory, the outbreak would be the largest in a municipal water system since 1994 in Las Vegas.

And if mountain goats turn out to be the cause, that might be a first in the United States, he said.

The city faces a 2016 federal deadline to protect the city water against cryptosporidium, likely by treating it in a plant with ultraviolet light.

The City Council learned this week that because of the outbreak, it may have to build a more expensive filtration plant.

Source:  http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/27a7418ecb494706b406184496c13d65/OR–Baker-City-Parasite

Radioactive water leaking into Pacific, Fukushima watchdog declares “emergency”

Radioactive groundwater at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor has risen above the level of an underground barrier meant to contain it and is headed for the Pacific Ocean.

Last month, Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, acknowledged for the first time that the reactor was leaking contaminated underground water into the ocean.

On Monday, an official at Japan’s nuclear watchdog agency told Reuters that the situation constitutes an “emergency.”

Shinji Kinjo told the news agency that the leak is exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge.

The reactor was damaged in a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in East Japan, and Tepco has struggled to contain contamination.

Oregon officials aren’t yet mobilizing in response to the news, said Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the Oregon Health Division, which oversees the state’s radiation monitoring program.

After the 2011 earthquake, Oregon began monitoring ocean water and drinking water from three locations along the Oregon coast. The monitoring was suspended in September 2011 because there were no significant findings.

In April 2012, when tsunami debris began arriving along the Oregon coast, the state began sampling surf water, sand from the high tide line, and drinking water from three locations along the coast.

In March, 2013, health officials reviewed the data from the samples and concluded that it is unlikely that tsunami debris presents a radiation risk to the public. It then scaled back sampling to quarterly.

Source:  http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20130805/UPDATE/130805022/Radioactive-water-leaking-into-Pacific-Fukushima-watchdog-declares-emergency-?nclick_check=1

Petition to stop Warren Buffet from putting algaecide in Klamath River

Petition by Regina Chichizola, United States

Recently PacifiCorp quietly submitted a plan to apply toxins for the second year to Klamath River reservoirs as an algae killing experiment. River users, including fisherman and Native American Tribes unanimously oppose this action citing last year’s studies that show killing the algae actually releases the algae toxin, microcystin, at a time of year when people are in the Klamath River.

Levels of microcystin behind PacifiCorp have consistently been up to 3000 times over the World Health Organization limits for recreation contact. This has lead to the entire river below the reservoirs has been declared a health hazard every late summer for the past five years. Studies, commissioned through the Klamath dam relicensing process have proven the reservoirs create the algae.

The fact is it is time for PacifiCorp to move forward with needed Clean Water Act certification to remove their dams, which create the algae problem. PacifiCorp has stated publicly they want to remove the dams, but have not taken any needed legal actions to support dam removal in years.

PacifiCorp’s has state this proposal is part of an experiment proposed under interim measures of the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement (KHSA). The KHSA is tied to Klamath water sharing legislation that died in the last Congress. Last year PacifiCorp did a simalr experiment without giving any notification of the chemical use to river users, or initiating public comment. This has lead parties to the KHSA that oppose chemical use in the Klamath River to initiate a conflict resolution process available for those who signed the agreement. However PacifiCorp has indicated they have no plans to initiate a public comment period or to notify the public of when the chemicals will be used.

This has lead to claims that PacifiCorp is using stalled out agreements to essentially make the Klamath a corporately controlled river. Needed Clean Water Act processes and other environmental regulations have been stalled by the promise of Klamath legislation for nearly a decade. It is time to move forward with dam removal

Source: https://www.change.org/petitions/warren-buffett-s-pacificorp-cancel-plans-to-use-algaecides-in-the-klamath-do-your-401-cert?utm_source=action_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=26211&alert_id=ROJTpoZEpE_sIdWqcRhyl

Let The Public See Who’s Responsible For River Discharge

Oregonian Opinion Letter

April 6, 2013

By Travis Williams

Every day, millions of gallons of treated waste are pumped into our rivers and other waterways in Oregon from municipal treatment plants, industrial facilities and other sources. These discharges are allowed with permits issued under the federal Clean Water Act, and most often people meet the standards for cleanliness set within those permits. Most of these pipes are underwater, discreetly discharging treated waste unseen, but sometimes problems occur and visible pollution results along our rivers.

This was the case for me and many others last summer on the upper Willamette. While paddling a canoe with an Oregon Parks and Recreation ranger, we encountered a massive plume of wastewater that was darkening easily a third of the river’s width. This plume extended downstream about a half-mile. It smelled horrid and turned the Willamette’s normal light blue-green hue to nearly black.

Because I’ve worked on this river for 13 years, I knew that there was a nearby mill and that it was likely something was amiss with its discharge to the Willamette. As it turned out, I was correct. Yet if I hadn’t known about this discharge ahead of time, I would not have been able to see from the river that there was a permitted discharge; there was no contact information or company name posted anywhere nearby.

I found out that for weeks, river users had been trying to figure out what that plume was. Those paddling and fishing the river saw and smelled the plume, but there was no indication of where it was coming from or why it was occurring. There are many pipes in Oregon waters, most with no indication of where they are. In essence they remain hidden until something goes wrong. This should change. When problems occur, river users should have a direct, inexpensive and easy way to gain information from the river — in the form of a basic sign.

It makes sense to have a simple sign placed along the riverbank to indicate that there is a discharge point under the Clean Water Act. The sign should include the permit holder’s name and phone number, as well as contact information for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. At times the general public is the first to spot trouble in Oregon’s waterways, and it makes sense for river users to be able to get in touch with the permit holder.

Two states that are very different politically, New York and Tennessee, both require signs at such discharge points. The Oregon Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee recently considered a bill to require signage at such discharge points, but the opposition from both cities and industry was fierce. They seem to fear those who fish, boat and paddle knowing about these discharge points, and providing basic contact information.

It’s time to remedy this gap of knowledge about our public waters. Signage is effective, inexpensive and direct. The public right to know on our waterways is the right way to go.

Travis Williams is riverkeeper and executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper. He is author of the “Willamette River Field Guide.”

Source:  http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2013/04/let_the_public_see_whos_respon.html

Our View: Transparency needed on transportation projects

The public has the right to know what the state and its private roadwork partners are up to.

April 3, 2013 | Portland Press Herald

Link to Article

Back in 2010, the Legislature created an exemption to the state’s right-to-know law that you could drive a truck through.

click image to enlarge

A group responds to Peter Vigue, CEO of Cianbro Corp., while he addresses more than 700 people during a public meeting at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft on May 31, 2012, to discuss the proposed east-west corridor. A study on the project’s feasibility will cost Maine taxpayers $300,000, although Vigue says the project will be privately financed.

2012 File Photo/Derek Davis

Under this exemption, all records of public-private partnerships involving transportation projects of $25 million or more are sealed until the Maine Department of Transportation decides whether to go ahead with or reject a given project.

All submissions and communications are secret. The public can’t find out how it would be affected until late in the process. Even when the public is paying for the work, under this exemption the public has no right to know how its money is being spent.

This exemption is far too broad and should be tightened by the Legislature this year. Lawmakers should do that by passing L.D. 721 and bringing transparency to this type of project.

The weakness of the current law became instantly obvious with the very first project to come along since the law went on the books – the proposed east-west transportation, utilities and communications corridor that the Cianbro Corp. construction company has proposed to cut across the state from Calais to Coburn Gore.

Cianbro President Peter Vigue has publicly said it would be a privately financed project, built on existing rights of way, taking no land through eminent domain. But the public is paying up to $300,000 for a feasibility study. Beyond that, there is no information available.

People have legitimate questions about how this project might affect them. No one knows the proposed route (except its broad outline), and the specifics could affect property and business owners along the way.

The project is supposed to be completely privately financed, but how would that work exactly? What role would the state having in maintaining and policing the new corridor or in connecting it to the rest of the transportation network?

What would happen if the company that owned the corridor went bankrupt? This has happened in other states when public-private partnerships were used to build roads and the state was left holding the bag.

Although it has been stated that no public money would be needed for the east-west corridor, the public is already spending $300,000 for a study at a time when it is cutting key services elsewhere.

There may be simple answers to all of these concerns, but secrecy is a surefire way to destroy public trust.

A narrowly defined exception that would protect trade secrets and the company’s competitive position could be crafted to permit the kind of public oversight that would ease these concerns.

The Legislature ought to tighten up this exemption to the right-to-know law to make sure important projects have public involvement every step of the way.

Sangerville residents place moratorium on east-west corridor development

By Alex Barber, BDN Staff | April 02, 2013

Link to Article

SANGERVILLE, Maine — Sangerville residents voted to place a moratorium on development related to a proposed east-west highway during Saturday’s town meeting.

Residents voted nearly unanimously to place a six-month moratorium on any development related to the east-west corridor, Sangerville Town Manager Dave Pearson said on Tuesday.

Sangerville isn’t alone in taking steps to slow development of the corridor. The Piscataquis County town of Monson is in its second 180-day moratorium on such development. The Penobscot County towns of Garland and Charleston are planning similar moratoriums, according to officials.

The proposed corridor includes a 220-mile toll highway connecting Calais to Coburn Gore, making an east-west route from New Brunswick to Quebec. Cianbro Corp. President and CEO Peter Vigue, who has been a leading voice in favor of the route, has previously said the highway would avoid town centers and pass between Dover-Foxcroft and Dexter. He also has said that eminent domain will not be used in acquiring land for the project.

“We don’t have a land use ordinance or zoning,” Pearson said. “There are concerns about what this thing means and what’s involved. They want this moratorium to give the planning board time to study the impact on it and whether there needs to be a stand-alone ordinance. In theory, the planning board and other folks would start working on this ordinance, and in six months probably bring it back to a town meeting for adoption.”

Pearson said the moratorium would expire on September 23, but it gives the town an opportunity to “call a timeout.

“If somebody were to come in right now and ask for a permit for shoreland zoning for the east-west corridor, the planning board would have to say we can’t because of the moratorium,” Pearson said.

Planning board chairman Jerry Peters spoke out in favor of the moratorium during the meeting.

“At one point [Vigue] said it would miss Dexter and Dover-Foxcroft and go between them. That leaves Sangerville,” he said.

Of the 150 or so who attended Saturday’s meeting, only three voted against the moratorium, said Peters.

“That was a pretty emphatic statement, I would say,” he said. “I don’t know if everybody is opposed to it, but everybody has questions about it. I don’t think that sits well with people. I wish they were more open.”

Pearson said he has concerns about the proposed east-west corridor.

“I’m kind of concerned about it. I don’t know who’s behind it or what the plan is,” he said. “There should be more transparency on this. It’s pretty hard to support something when you don’t know who’s backing it, where it’s going or whether there’s a pipeline attached it.”

There may be hidden costs to the town as well, he said.

“For us, we will probably have to update our ambulance crew and fire department for accidents on the highway,” Pearson said. “I’m leery on this, honestly. I need to be convinced and I don’t see anybody out there convincing me.”

Monson Town Manager Julie Anderson said a 180-day moratorium on the east-west corridor was passed in September 2012. That moratorium was extended a further 180 days. It is set to expire in September.

“It was passed to stop development until the planning board can set guidelines in our land use ordinance for these big developments,” said Anderson, who added the moratorium was passed unanimously during a special town meeting last year.

Garland Administrative Assistant Julie Kimball said plans for a moratorium are forthcoming.

“We had it in our town warrant, but the problem is that we didn’t have a fair hearing,” said Kimball.

An east-west corridor committee made of up town residents was created, she said. They will “start working with the planning board to cover all of our bases so when we do get [a moratorium] in place, we don’t miss it due to a technicality.”

She expects a special town meeting regarding the issue to be held in late June or early July.

On Monday, residents placed a moratorium in front of the Charleston selectmen to be reviewed.

“We’re currently reviewing it and we’ll be sending it to our legal department,” said Teri Lynn Hall, selectboard chair. “It will be a few months down the road. We have to send it to our legal department to check to make sure all the terminology is correct. It’s the first one we’ve ever dealt with. We want to make sure we dot all of our i’s and cross all our t’s.”

Hillier Artman of Sangerville, who spoke during Saturday’s town meeting in Sangerville, said the east-west highway will be a tough sell.

“Nobody wants it. The people I talked to don’t want anything to do with it,” he said. “The people who don’t care [either way] don’t live anywhere near [the likely proposed route].”

CORRECTION:An earlier version of this story requires correction. Planning board chairman Jerry Peters spoke in favor of the moratorium, not against the east-west highway.

Unanswered questions fuel contentious meeting over east-west highway

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff | April 02, 2013

Link to Article and Video

BANGOR, Maine — Uncertainty surrounding the route of a proposed 220-mile highway across Maine sparked vehement questioning and opposition during a Tuesday morning meeting at the historic Penobscot County Courthouse.

Cianbro Corp. CEO Peter Vigue, the leading proponent of the east-west highway, spent much of the meeting with commissioners trying to dispel what he called rumors and misconceptions about the proposed private $2.1-billionproject. Many of the more than 100 residents of Penobscot and Piscataquis counties in attendance weren’t satisfied after nearly two hours spent posing questions and concerns to Vigue.

Vigue argued that such a roadway would help Maine’s struggling economy grow and thrive. Residents voiced concerns that their towns and properties might lie in the path of the proposed highway, putting rural, agrarian ways of life at risk.

Cianbro, a Pittsfield-based construction company, has yet to release information about the corridor’s proposed route because its plans are fluid and changing on a regular basis, company representatives have said. That has left residents to speculate about whether it will cut a path through their communities or properties.

Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci said during the meeting that uncertainty among property owners about the path of the highway could lead to “condemnation blight,” a legal term referring to a reduction in property value that results from potential eminent domain claims. While Cianbro has repeatedly said that eminent domain will not be used, its decision to map out a route behind closed doors is causing uncertainty among residents who are left to speculate about the future of their land, Baldacci said.

Residents vehemently questioned Vigue, mostly on where the highway would be placed. Some attendees shouted out in disagreement or scoffed when Vigue provided uncertain answers or said he didn’t have or wasn’t prepared to release information related to the private project or its partners.

During his presentation and in answering questions that followed, Vigue vowed that there would be no public-private partnership between Cianbro and the state, that eminent domain would not be used to acquire land, and that tar sands and oil pipelines would not be run along the corridor in the foreseeable future.

The meeting came less than two months after a commissioners meeting during which more than a dozen Penobscot and Piscataquis County residents blasted the highway proposal. Commissioners asked Vigue to provide Cianbro’s perspective on the idea.