Willamette Riverkeeper drops threat to sue over mixing zone for Halsey pulp mill

An environmental watchdog group has backed off its threat to sue the operators of a Halsey pulp mill over pollution in a Willamette River mixing zone after the company took steps to remedy the problem.

Willamette Riverkeeper and Cascade Pacific Pulp LLC announced a $20,000 settlement late Friday afternoon that resolves most of the issues in the dispute and calls for mediation of one outstanding point.

Under terms of the deal, Cascade Pacific pledged to move forward with a dredging project aimed at increasing the volume of water flowing through the mixing zone. The company also agreed to pay $10,000 toward Willamette Riverkeeper’s legal fees and another $10,000 to help fund a floodplain restoration project at Green Island north of Eugene.

The two sides further agreed to let a mediator decide whether the pulp mill operator must post a permanent sign marking its wastewater outfall. Willamette Riverkeeper is backing a bill in the Oregon Legislature that would require such signs for all mixing zones, areas where pollution discharges are allowed to exceed permitted limits because river flows are considered sufficient to dilute the effluent.

Travis Williams, the executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper, said the group got most of what it wanted in the settlement.

“It’s not ideal, but it does remedy the issue with the (Halsey) mixing zone,” he said. “Ultimately they’ll have more flow over the diffuser, and we’ll see that waste we were seeing swept downstream.”

Last August, Willamette Riverkeeper threatened to sue Cascade Pacific Pulp under the Clean Water Act over a coffee-colored, foul-smelling waste plume it claimed violated the company’s discharge permit.

Cascade Pacific is allowed to discharge up to 17,000 pounds a day of process wastewater from the company’s Halsey pulp mill and the adjoining Georgia-Pacific tissue plant. The liquid waste, which enters the Willamette River through an underwater diffuser about 15 miles upstream from Corvallis, is supposed to be dispersed by the river before it leaves a defined mixing zone.

But a gravel bar had built up just upstream, reducing the amount of water flowing past the diffuser pipes and allowing the waste plume to extend well beyond the mixing zone during the summer months.

Cascade Pacific dredged a temporary channel through the gravel bar to alleviate the situation and has applied for permits to remove more than 22,000 cubic yards of material in hopes of permanently solving the problem.

The company’s attorney could not be reached for comment after the agreement was announced Friday.

Contact reporter Bennett Hall at bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9529.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be contacted at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazettetimes.com.

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Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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