Ecolotree cleans up in Oregon


Photo by Joost J. Baker, Flickr

Lou Licht, a University of Iowa professor and founder of Ecolotree Inc., will be teaming up with the Port of Morrow industrial park in Boardman, Oregon to remove nitrates from the soil.

Licht’s company is based in Iowa and creates forests that are engineered to help clean landfills or chemical spill sites.  The Port of Morrow will be using Licht’s poplar trees to control the nitrogen in their East Beach Industrial Park.

To read more, check out the East Oregonian’s coverage here or read more below.  You can also listen to our radio podcast about Licht’s work here.

The Port of Morrow is embarking on an environmental project to test the effectiveness of trees for helping to remove nitrates from the soil.

Port commissioners approved an agreement Wednesday with Ecolotree Inc., an Iowa-based engineering company. Ecolotree designs, installs, and maintains engineered forests at regulatory-permitted sites, such as landfills and chemical spill sites. The technology is called phytoremediation.

Lou Licht, founder and president of Ecolotree, was in Morrow County Thursday as his company planted about 400 poplar and willow trees for a small prototype demonstration buffer.

His company is planting 11- to 12-foot tall trees into 5-foot deep trenches. He expects the project to show how the plantation can control nitrogen. The plantation is east of the port’s wastewater lagoon in the East Beach Industrial Park. It contains nitrogen-rich water from the port’s processing plants.

Licht, an Oregon State University graduate, said the port will irrigate the trees with wastewater from the pond.

“Instead of high-energy, high-capital treatment plants, if we can do it in the ground, we should do it in the ground,” Licht said.

Aaron Madison of Echo, an Ecolotree employee, said the port will use hand lines to irrigate the trees.

Port employees Robert Turner and Tom Baumgartner used a backhoe Friday to dig the trenches in four arcs 14 feet apart. Madison and others planted the trees about 7 feet apart in the trenches.

By planting the trees deep, he said, they will develop massive root balls. The roots, in turn, feed microbes in the soil that use the nitrates. At three places in the small plantation, the workers installed collection basins beneath the trees. The basins, which have a standpipe rising about four feet above the ground, will allow Ecolotree workers to sample the water after it has irrigated the trees to determine how it has changed after passing through the soil.

In other business Wednesday, the commission adopted a resolution to expand the Columbia River Enterprise Zone to accommodate additional business. Port officials will submit the resolution to the Oregon Business Development Department for approval.

The port wants to add 683.6 acres to the enterprise zone, which allows businesses operating within the zone to apply for a 3- to 5-year property tax exemption. The additions include nearly 170 acres at Threemile Canyon Farms, which plans to build additional methane digesters. Gary Neal, the port’s general manager, said the business plans about a $20 million investment.

Len Bergstein, a spokesman for the farming operation, said the new methane digesters will use an improved technology, different from the digester it built a couple of years ago.

“It looks like something we can use at various locations throughout the farm,” he said.

The other 514 acres to be added to the enterprise zone involves port industrial property in the southeast corner of the East Beach Industrial Park north of U.S. Highway 730.

Also Wednesday, commissioners approved an estimated $120,000 work plan for GSI Water Solutions Inc. of Bend. The company is working on the port’s water pollution control facility permit and preparing a groundwater monitoring plan. The work is to be completed this year.

The company also is providing support for  Ecolotree’s poplar bioreactor pilot project.

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