NW Natural reaches deal for Portland Harbor cleanup

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PORTLAND — Northwest Natural Gas Co. has reached an agreement with staff at the Oregon Public Utility Commission and ratepayer advocates on how to begin charging ratepayers for the utility's share of Portland Harbor cleanup costs.

Between 1913 and 1956, the gas company manufactured gas on land near the St. Johns Bridge, now called the Gasco site. While the pollution from that site has nothing to do with current customers, regulators are allowing the utility to recover costs from ratepayers as an ongoing cost of doing business.

The liability is unknown. The range of estimates for the total superfund cleanup are vast: from $200 million to $1.8 billion, depending on how much expensive dredging is required. The costs will also be spread in a complex allocation among more than 100 potentially responsible parties during the next few decades, and those parties are wrangling with their insurance companies. The Environmental Protection agency is still settling on the best method and scope of the cleanup.