A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

August sewer spill could get expensive

Written September 22nd, 2019 by Hasso Hering

At Bowman Park, workers pour concrete on Sept. 20 near where a sewer pipe leaked into the Willamette River on Aug. 15.

A sewer leak last month may prove costly for Albany ratepayers unless the city and Willamette Riverkeeper can reach some kind of agreement.

The leak from an abandoned sewer pipe near Bowman Park was discovered on Aug. 15, the same day 185 boaters headed downstream from Albany in the annual Paddle Oregon event organized by the Riverkeeper, a nonprofit group created to be “the eyes, ears and voice” of the river.

The city estimated at the time that the pipe discharged about 2,100 gallons from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., when it was plugged.

On Aug. 27, Travis Williams, executive director, notified Albany officials that after a 60-day waiting period, Willamette Riverkeeper intended to sue the city for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

“Unaware of the raw sewage discharge,” his letter said, “Paddle Oregon paddlers floated in boats and swam alongside their boats in the river during the discharge. Since the discharge, at least two Paddle Oregon paddlers have suffered infections they reasonably believe are related to the discharge.”

Besides the incident in August, Willamette Riverkeeper contends that emergency sewer overflows during heavy rainstorms since 2015 were not authorized by the city’s pollution discharge permit. It says that total penalties for the violations it alleges are more than $585,800, and it also intends to seek attorney costs and witness fees.

Last week, after I asked, Williams sent me a copy of the organization’s nine-page notice to the city.

“It was unfortunate,” he said in an email, “but we found some other irregularities in their operations that concern us. We are setting up a meeting with their legal counsel to address.”

He added, “The city is upset with us, yet utilizing the CWA [Clean Water Act] can help provide a specific path forward that is legally binding. At the very least we want to ensure that our PO participants, nor other swimmers and paddlers in that area don’t travel through sewage again when recreating on the Willamette.”

I asked City Manager Peter Troedsson for a response to the notice to sue.

“The City is committed to protecting and improving water quality in the Willamette River, and as you know we take our environmental stewardship responsibilities seriously,” he replied. “Since 2000, the City has invested more than $70 million to expand capacity, replace infrastructure and proactively maintain the community’s wastewater system.

“We strongly disagree with how our operation, management and maintenance of that system has been characterized in the Willamette Riverkeeper claim.”

For some time there’s been an excavation going on at Bowman Park, and last week they were pouring concrete there. I asked Chris Bailey, the director of public works operations, if that had anything to do with the abandoned pipe that caused all this.

“Yes,” she replied, “the contractor is locating some pipes in that area, both active and inactive, so that we better understand their layout and connections.”

On matters concerning the Clean Water Act, Albany is represented by the Portland law firm of Cable Huston LLP. What happens next will presumably depend, at least in part, on what they and Willamette Riverkeeper’s counsel can work out. (hh)

17 responses to “August sewer spill could get expensive”

  1. Jason says:

    As always…it’s nobody’s fault, so the taxpayers get ripped off again, while the managers blow smoke and hide behind mirrors.

  2. David Thompson says:

    In an unrelated issue that involves the so called keepers? They want the drainage free of hatchery steelhead. They say that the hatchery summer steelhead introduced in 1970 has affected the wild winter steelhead. Not true. Actually, since the intro of skamaina Summer steelhead, the winter strain increased. If you go to the Willamette falls archives, the winter run increased after fans were built due to controlled flows to flush out the smolts and kept temperature down for survival. Numbers don’t lie. It wasn’t until the invasive pennepeds occurred, that the winter steelhead declined. Check it out. Summer hatchery steelhead have not degraded the wild winter steelhead. Sea lions alone are the cause

  3. Jim Engel says:

    Say, did any of the Riverkeepers “releave” themselves in Albany before starting out? Will the excuse themselves from any court action?

  4. J. Jacobson says:

    Why do Hasso’s most condemnatory stories focus on feculence?
    First it’s the discharge. Then the ejecta. Putrescence perseverates. Albany contaminates. Hasso ruminates. Troedsson obfuscates. Riverkeepers defecate.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      Says he who bloviates…

      • J. Jacobson says:

        I thought there wasn’t supposed to be personal attacks in the Comments section. Yet now, some seem to believe me a “bloviator.” Seems an unsolicited, ad hominem-style attack against me for reasons unknown. I hope Hasso will review this brutal assault on my dignity and prevent this untoward activity in the future. No one deserves this abuse.

  5. J. Jacobson says:

    Willamette Riverkeepers offices/headquarters/re-education camp is located at 403 SE Caruthers, Portland. The law firm, which Albany Moms and Pops farmed-out the sewage spill legal work to, Cable Huston, is on SW Broadway in downtown Portland.

    So while Albany property owners shell out (rightfully so) repair dollars, the decision as to how large the bite-outta-Albany should be is being haggled-over by two Portland-area firms perhaps … feigning angst over sewage spills, but are secretly in cahoots to fleece the small town rubes. It is possible.

  6. centrist says:

    Sounds as though an activist group is asserting they have regulatory authority. Sorry. There is a real regulator who will decide whether to levy fones or penalties.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Well, the Clean Water Act empowers private citizens and groups to become regulators by authorizing them to file citizen actions in federal court.

      • J. Jacobson says:

        Whoever thought giving this powerful regulatory authority to “private citizens” must have been out of their mind. Imagine that any old person who might not want to drink toxic water can challenge the authorities and sue in the courts. Empowering everyday citizens could only be a result of liberal twisted thinking. “Only I can fix it,” Donald Trump bellowed. Average citizens are too stupid to think about clean water.

    • MsJ says:

      Private citizens or activist/advocate groups don’t establish the regulatory rules (although they can be solicited for opinion), but can bring lawsuits against the entity that caused violation of the Clean Water Act and/or the agency that didn’t enforce it.

      The Clean Water Act actually encourages private citizen involvement and Hasso’s comment is right.


      I’m afraid Hasso is also right in that Albany ratepayers will ultimately pay for city ineptitude via future sewer rate increases and unfortunately, the Paddle Oregon canoeists got a sickly ‘taste’ of Albany’s chronic lack of environmental stewardship.

      • centrist says:

        Thanks for the education MsJ and HH.
        That nuance wasn’t evident where I worked. But then, we had a dedicated staff to deal with things like that. One of my tasks involved keeping the process functioning within well-established boundaries.
        I guess that what drove my comment was that a $ paid as a fine is a $ no longer available for remediation. My observation from the industrial world was that the regulators wouldn’t take formal action if you kept clean, but self-reported excursions timely. If you were a chronic willful violator they got assertive.

  7. Travis says:

    Willamette Riverkeeper has used the Clean Water Act 60-day notice pretty rarely over the years. In this instance it appears it is pretty valid, and usually when such notices are provided by any person or organization, the facts are on their side. Also, Willamette Riverkeeper has an office in Eugene as well, and they own land along the river in addition to helping to foster the Willamette Water Trail.


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