July 15, 2019
Press release from the office of Commissioner Nick Fish:
New Lawsuit Seeks to Stall Progress on Willamette River Clean-Up
and Shift Cost to Portland Taxpayers
Late Friday afternoon, Portland law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP filed a lawsuit challenging the City’s recent actions to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund Site, an 11-mile stretch of the Willamette River running through the heart of our community.
The claims are recycled from an earlier lawsuit brought against the City by the same firm – claims lost on the merits. The new lawsuit seeks additional taxpayer money to cover the firm’s fees, accounting costs and administrative services.
In Anderson v. City of Portland, Circuit Court Judge Bushong previously ruled that, “Determining whether water and sewer ratepayer dollars should be spent for various projects is a question presented in the first instance to the elected officials who serve on the City Council and manage the water and sewer funds. It is not the court’s role to second-guess or attempt to judge whether Council’s decision in any given situation constitutes a wise use of ratepayer dollars or sound public policy.”
Earlier this year, the State of Oregon and the City of Portland partnered to launch an innovative new approach to jump start clean-up of the river. The strategy both pools and caps the public agencies’ financial commitments for this phase of the work and offers greater certainty and significantly lower risk and cost. Together, the City and State are establishing a trust to hold up to $24 million to provide funding to parties that commit to making progress on clean-up.
“Not only is the trust a responsible approach for Portland ratepayers and taxpayers, it’s become a national model,” said Portland Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the City’s Bureau of Environmental Services. “During my tenure, we brought sewer and stormwater rates down to below the rate of inflation, while continuing to be a leader in the Willamette River clean-up. I’m disappointed that – again – Portlanders will be asked to foot the bill for an unfounded lawsuit.”
Michael Jordan, Director of BES added, “We are proud of our work on the Superfund, most notably our recent agreement with EPA which continues to explore the most efficient and cost-effective ways to address City liability and use public funds to clean up our river.”
Chief Deputy City Attorney Karen Moynahan, who will handle the case for the City, commented, “Despite transparent and clear communication from the City, I’m disappointed by the misrepresentation of facts in the lawsuit. The City won this case before and we’ll win it again – unfortunately, at a cost to the public.”