Plans to redevelop the former Blue Heron Paper mill in Oregon City got a boost this week as the federal government announced it is granting $800,000 to the property for brownfield assessment and cleanup.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regularly gives out funding to help assess and clean up such properties as part of its Brownfields Program.
Brownfields are properties that may have hazardous pollutants or other contaminants present that complicate their redevelopment, expansion or reuse.
The EPA this week announced a slate of $2.3 million such grants for Oregon groups, including the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, which purchased the former Blue Heron site in 2019.
Others in Oregon chosen for funding were the South Central Oregon Economic Development District ($600,000), Baker Technical Institute ($600,000) and the City of Chiloquin ($300,000).
The Blue Heron paper mill closed in 2011, after which it went through several owners.
The Willamette Falls Legacy Project came together several years ago, a collaborative effort to redevelop the property for public use by the state, county, Oregon City and Metro.
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde publicized their ambitious plans for the area in March, which acknowledged the need for environmental remediation due to more than a century of industrial use.
Tribal leaders say the grant will fund environmental testing and decommissioning of underground storage tanks and allow for larger remediation plans that focus on repurposing portions of the site and preparing for demolition.
“As caretakers of the Willamette Falls area, we’re thankful for the EPA and this funding,” said Cheryle A. Kennedy, chairwoman of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
“Tending to the land by addressing the environmental remediation needs will help ensure that the Tribe’s vision can be fully implemented across the site and bring people back to Willamette Falls.”
The Tribe’s vision calls for a restored riverbank with native vegetation and new gathering places.
Multi-use spaces such as offices, housing, a higher education facility, commercial units and other developments may be in the cards for the 23-acre site.
“It’s really all about our tribal, state and local partners,” Michelle Pirzadeh, the EPA’s acting regional administrator in Seattle, said in the grant announcement. “They have enthusiastically embraced Brownfields redevelopment and its positive community impact.
“Time and time again, we see how strong local leadership coupled with the infusion of federal funds can breathe new life into idle properties.”
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