Yakama Nation Sues Army Corps of Engineers in Columbia River Superfund Site Cleanup

Yakama Nation sues U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for allegedly excluding it from cleanup plans at Branford Island Superfund site in WA.
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The Yakama Nation is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for allegedly excluding the tribe from cleanup input at the Bradford Island Superfund site on the Columbia River.

“The Yakama Nation has a key role in cleanup and had numerous meetings with the Corps, but they still fail to meaningfully include the Yakama Nation in Bradford Island cleanup efforts,” Gerald Lewis, Yakama Nation Tribal Councilman said in a statement about the action filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon on December 10. “Tribal participation is a requirement for cleanup in areas with historic tribal use.”

The tribe is seeking about $93,000 in costs it already incurred, and a guarantee of the tribal nation’s participation in the cleanup at into the future on the site, which is on the Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam complex, near Cascade Locks, Ore. and North Bonneville, Washington. There has been a “Do Not Eat” fish advisory via the Washington and Oregon state health departments since the summer of 2013 for the area around the Bradford Island Cleanup site. The advisory followed years of failed cleanup efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which used the island as a dumping ground for four decades.

Photo: Courtesy Choctaw Nation

Left to right: Kelly Danner, KOB Board President; Vonna Shults, Jon Hotubbee, and Tracy Horst, Director of Environmental Sustainability Going Green Team

Bradford Island and its surrounding area is part of the Yakama Nation’s usual and accustomed area. It’s a historic fishing site for Yakama tribal members. And notably, the Yakama Nation’s largest archeological collection comes from the island area. Even so, the court action alleges, the Corps excluded the tribe from cleanup efforts.

The site qualifies as a Superfund site, “but USACE has used authorities under an Executive Order to conduct the cleanup,” Rose Longoria, Superfund Coordinator with the Yakama Nation Fisheries told Indian Country Today Media Network.

The Corps removed electrical debris and some contaminated sediment from the river in 2002, and removed 0.83 acre of highly contaminated sediments from the same area in October 2007. The Corps has several options to continue cleaning up the island. A feasibility study is expected to be completed in 2015.

The island and surrounding area is contaminated with toxic waste materials from the operation of the dam. The Corps disposed of hazardous waste on the island and directly into the river from 1942 to 1982.

The waste released hazardous substances “like petroleum hydrocarbons, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pesticides,” Longoria said, resulting in “highly toxic, unhealthy fish” that carry the highest PCB concentrations in the region.

“Working together to clean up the Columbia River is key to a clean and productive river that sustains the cultural practices of Yakama members,” Longoria said. “It is disappointing that we are going to court to compel the United States to partner with the tribe.”

A Corps spokesperson said they had not seen the lawsuit, and had no comment.