PORTLAND, Ore. -- The agency handling the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup said the effort will cost less than it had recently thought.

A new proposal's price tag is now expected to duck below the $1 billion mark, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday. The Environmental Protection Agency now plans to release its proposal on June 8.

The cleanup of toxic pollution in the sediment of the Willamette River and Columbia Slough has been studied and developed for the last 15 years.

In February, the EPA chose what it called its "optimal plan," which would have cost $1.4 billion and largely let the river do the work through natural recovery, relying on the river bringing clean sediment to sites to dislodge the PCBs, pesticides, heavy metals and other potentially hazardous pollutants in the sediment.

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That plan had a timeline for seven years of active construction in and along the Willamette from the southern end of Sauvie Island to just past the Fremont Bridge.

While EPA is keeping the plan close to the vest until the official announcement on June 8, spokesperson Mark Macintyre said it includes natural recovery, dredging and "a full suite of activities aimed at getting the river healthier."

"It’s less about the money and what’s included in the plan," said Travis Williams, head of the environmental nonprofit Willamette Riverkeeper, which works to protect and restore the iconic Oregon waterway.

"If they’re telling us they’ll never be able to lift the fish advisories related to the harbor itself (for human consumption), then it would seem to me the plan wouldn’t be good enough. The fish advisory is indicative of the progress of the cleanup.

"One of the most basic things you could do is clean it up to the point where they could lift the fish advisory for the consumption of fish in that area given that it has the excess cancer risk related to PCBs that are driving a good amount of this cleanup."

The Portland Business Journal is a KGW News partner.

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