Initial Assessment and Early Settlements

Railroad bridge over Willamette River

Phase 1 Assessment Planning & Field Studies

In Phase 1, which is complete, the Trustee Council’s objective was to develop a plan to assess natural resource injuries and damages in a focused, cost-effective manner, and conduct field studies to inform future phases of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA).

Table listing Phase 1 Efforts, their goals, and some outcomes.  Includes Assessment Plan, Review Existing Data, Implement Studies, and Public Outreach.


Phase 2 Settlement-Oriented Assessment and Restoration Planning 

The goal of Phase 2, which is ongoing, is for the Trustee Council to reach early settlements with potentially responsible parties (PRPs) for the PRPs’ NRD liability (described below) and conduct restoration planning. This settlement-oriented phase includes calculating injury and corresponding damages based on available information and targeted additional data collection consistent with the guidance in the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) regulations. 

Table of Phase 2 Efforts, their goals, and key outcomes.  Efforts included Determine Injury, Quantify Losses, and Cooperative Assessment and Early Settlements

*More information on Habitat Equivalency Analysis can be found here:


Early Settlements

Settlements are agreements between parties that resolve a dispute without the need for a lawsuit or trial. For the Portland Harbor NRDA, settlements under Phase 2 are considered “early.” This is because EPA’s cleanup actions in the Willamette River are not complete (and will not be for many years), and the Trustee Council’s full injury assessment is still underway. However, reaching early settlements now is ultimately beneficial for natural resources and the public:

  • Settlements enable the Trustee Council to implement restoration actions sooner.
  • Settlements reduce the amount of money and time required to assess injury, determine damages, and obtain payment of damages from PRPs (litigation is more expensive) so that more funds can be spent on restoration.

To legally bind the settling parties to their agreement, the parties sign a Consent Decree as part of the following process (which can have many variations and outcomes but is presented in a simplified form here).

This process is led by the United States Department of Justice in consultation with the Trustee Council: 


Flow chart of Consent Decree Process. 1. Parties reach agreement in principle on the settlement amount. 2. Sign a Consent Decree with legally binding terms and conditions. 3. Lodge Consent Decree with the court along with supporting documentation. 4. Public to review and comment on the Consent Decree. 5. Public comments addressed. 6. Trustees decide whether to request Court to approve settlement. 7. Court approves final Consent Decree, making the agreement enforceable. 8. Implement restoration.
Oregon Health Authority fish advisory sign warning against consuming bass, catfish, and carp in Portland Harbor, especially for children, pregnant or nursing women, and women of childbearing age.

Oregon Health Authority Fish Advisory 

Willamette River Shoreline with oil tanks across the river

Looking west across the Willamette River towards oil storage containers