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Update (25 Aug 2011): Added the “Next Steps at Johnson Lake” section below. With Portland Parks, we have set a tentative date of Saturday, Oct 15, for an event at Johnson Lake for trail improvement, litter cleanup and invasives plant removal.

An hour-long discussion about Johnson Lake revealed that phase two of a cleanup is about to begin next month, after many years of research, planning and preparation.

As described in this prior post, three guest speakers were slated to attend the August 16, 2011, meeting of Sumner Association of Neighbors (SAN) in NE Portland. The guest speakers were Bob Dolphin of Owens-Illinois, Jennifer Sutter from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Lynn Barlow of Portland Parks.

screencap of DEQ/I-O slide deck on Johnson Lake

Bob and Jennifer jointly presented a slide show (19 MB Powerpoint file) about the lake. Here is a summary of key points:

  • The glass plant opened in 1956. In 1994, DEQ began working with the city on improving the entire Columbia Slough, and Johnson Lake was found to be a particular hotspot for PCBs. PCBs, or , are carcinogens that are not soluble and do not degrade. They also accumulate in the food chain. High levels of PCBs were found in the fish in the lake.
  • Testing revealed that much of the pollution at the lake was due to an electrical substation on the Owens-Illinois glass plant property. Bob explained how oil in electrical transformers is toxic but widely used at the time (1950s until 1970s). Prior to 1976, there was no sewer. Outflow went to three settling ponds, and then overflow went into the lake.
  • An initial record of decision was reached in 2007 that would have dredged the lake, but was amended in 2009 after further testing of the lake bed revealed lower intensity but wider disbursal of PCBs.
  • In fall 2009, phase one of mitigation plan was completed. About 3,000 tons of soil was removed to build a stormwater swale to divert glass plant outflow from settling ponds. Now they have a problem with beavers chewing up the young trees in the bioswale.
  • Phase two begins in late September when a barge spreader will gently lay down a six-inch ‘thin cap’ layer of clean sand on about 90% of the lake bed. The remainder will not be capped due to concern over a specific type of mussel at the outflow point of the lake, where it meets Whitaker Slough.
  • To replace the capacity in the lake lost by thin capping, a new slough will be dug out on Owens-Illinois property near NE 92nd Drive.
  • The capping phase will take 3 months to complete. The lake is surprisingly shallow — 6 feet at its deepest. In five years, DEQ will come back to test the fish again.

Bob estimated the cost for both phases to be about $2 million, paid for entirely by Owens-Illinois.

Next Steps at Johnson Lake

With the history and cleanup status explained, talk turned to what Sumner neighborhood residents could do at Johnson Lake and the future of the park land.

Lynn Barlow explained that Parks maintain the 8.76-acre Johnson Lake property as a natural area, which means less maintainance and upkeep than a regular park. She said their eastside stewardship coordinator, Susan Hawes, schedules cleanup and invasive plan removal ‘work parties’ at other natural areas, such as Powell Butte.

SAN chair Scott Somohano expressed interest in holding stewardship events twice yearly — fall and spring — and cited the potential of partnering with O-I, Columbia Slough Watershed Council and other groups to muster funding and volunteers.

The question was raised about a possible lake loop walking trail. The entire south bank of the lake is Owens-Illinois property, as is the west half of the north bank. Unless the city somehow acquired that property (unlikely in the short or medium range), it remains private property and off limits. Bob noted, however, that O-I does not have much use for the long narrow portion of property on the north side of the lake.

Updates on other neighborhood events and projects

The SAN board had updates on a few other topics to share:

  • Sandy Blvd sidewalk project: Paul Smith of PBOT provided an update on Thursday, Aug 11. He said some research remains — presumably on right-of-way or engineering issues — but we are on track to have sidewalk for both sides of Sandy Blvd, from NE 85th to the I-205 overpass, approved and installed within the current fiscal year.
  • Halloween party: We have a new sponsor for this event, slated for Friday, October 28, at Helensview High School. Mountain Coin Machine has generously agreed to bring and set up 4 or 5 arcade games at the school for a free game room!
  • Sumner Pride litter patrol: Patrollers have collected 1,150 pounds of litter to date. SAN purchased about 100 litter pickup tools from Parkrose Hardware to give out free of charge to neighborhood residents and businesses. Our next litter patrol is Saturday, August 27, and Portland city commissioner Amanda Fritz will be joining us as a guest litter patroller. We’ll meet at the CNN office, 4415 NE 87th, at 10 AM before spreading out.

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