Confronting Policy Challenges Associated with Engineering and Design

The past seven months at Group Mackenzie has truly been a great learning experience. The company has invested in profitable projects since the economic downturn, allowing me to accrue quite the repertoire of projects this year. At any given time during the past few months I have been working on 6-10 projects. The high demand and increasing workload has forced me to quickly improve my CAD skills, efficiency, and productivity. But don’t get me wrong, I have had some great mentors to help me along the way!

I have worked on a variety of both public and private projects in the Pacific Northwest region. As a civil engineer, I am primarily responsible for preliminary design preparation prior to review by our senior engineers or project managers. It rains most of the year in Portland, so much of my work pertains to water resource management, particularly related to stormwater management and design. I contributed to the design of countless parking lots, exterior site grading plans, roads, green streets, trails, and development along major waterways.

My experiences have exposed me to a series of policy issues we touched base on in Monique’s class—primarily related to Superfund/brownfield site redevelopment. Portland is recognized as a primary Western port for trade. In 2012, in response to the declining property vacancy rate, the City of Portland conducted its Economic Opportunities Analysis (EOA) to determine its employment land needs and supply to reach specific employment and economic targets by 2035 (E.D. Hovee & Company, LLC 2012). One of the conclusions of the study yielded that due to Portland’s convenient geographical location, “traded sector” industrial development would generate the greatest economic feedback. Since the City of Portland enforces a strict urban growth boundary, and existing vacant lots and green space are limited, the city turned to vacant contaminated sites within the Portland Harbor boundary.

The Portland Harbor Superfund site encompasses approximately 10 miles of the Lower Willamette River. Within the Portland Harbor clean-up site separate land-based Superfund sites also exist and vary in degree of contamination. Portland’s economy has, historically, thrived on the freight distribution opportunities provided by geophysical makeup of the region; however, has been hindered by monumental complications associated with poorly addressed, overlapping Superfund sites and conflicting regulations. The economic capacity to accommodate demand for new development in the Portland Harbor exists, however is stifled by major public policy conflicts related to overlapping Superfund site liability issues and complicated permitting processes (ECONorthwest 2012). This policy issue has been a major concern of our clients, and has been one of the major setbacks in our design processes.

The primary barrier for redevelopment on Portland Harbor lands is the risk associated with a compilation of factors, primarily related to the complications associated with remediation of sediments in a dynamic urban river system. Upland contamination sources of contamination have also contributed to the ongoing environmental problem. Furthermore, the EPA maintains specific dredging regulations in the federal navigation channel, “limiting access for deep draft vessels,” and more than 100 parties are potentially responsible for the contamination problems (Perkins Coie, 2012). Finally, inefficiency and disagreements in overlapping federal, state, and local regulatory systems seeking to protect the environment, endangered species, historic sites, and tribal groups, slow any remediation processes (Perkins Coie, 2012).

The policy issue is complex and multi-facted in nature, and has offered quite a venue for my thesis research and extended employment opportunity. Finding a policy solution for said sites would be an engineering feat in itself. Stay tuned for updates!

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About Marianna Hunnicutt