In 1979, the proposal to put a public landfill on a turkey farm along the South Yamhill River in Yamhill County, OR — about 40 miles southwest of Portland — was approved. The Riverbend Landfill was born. Fast-forward to 2008, when Houston-based Waste Management, Inc. (which now owns the landfill) proposed to quadruple the size of the landfill, as it was fast reaching total capacity and was projected to run out of room sometime in 2014. The planning commission voted 7-0 against this proposal, but the county commissioners approved it. A public and legal battle was waged by Waste Not of Yamhill County and its Partners in the Stop the Dump Coalition to stop the approval and they won. The courts threw the expansion proposal out because the county’s zoning ordinance does not allow landfills on prime farmland. In 2012, Waste Management submitted a plan to build a 40-foot-tall berm on the highway side of the dump. This would allow 1 million additional tons of garbage to be dumped at Riverbend. To the consternation of many detractors, Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced on May 30, 2013 that it “approved Riverbend Landfill’s controversial plan to increase its capacity by building a mechanically-stabilized earthen berm to rise 40-feet along the highway side of the landfill.” Reading through the DEQ’s official response to comments, here are some of the comments from community members and the DEQ’s responses to them: Phyllis Bradner and many others were concerned about the eventuality of an earthquake in the region. Mrs. Bradner wrote, “There is no way that anyone can tell me that an earthen berm can keep a mountain of trash from sliding into the Yamhill River in the aftermath of an earthquake.” DEQ responded and agreed, stating “that a large Cascadia Zone Earthquake will occur.” But the department felt the design was made with that in mind and, “Regarding the comment that the earthquake will cause the landfill to slide into the Yamhill River, we should point out that the landfill is not along the bank of the river, but is 400 feet away.” There were many comments that showed concern about the smell from the current landfill and worry about the smell getting worse with the new proposal. DEQ’s standard response: “DEQ air quality staff continue to work with Riverbend Landfill management to reduce the amount of landfill gas escaping the gas collection system. Our air quality program is in the process of modifying the facility’s Title V Operating Permit to require additional odor control measures and practices with improved odor monitoring at the landfill.” In the report, most of the 220 comments against the plan to expand the landfill expressed concerns about groundwater, air quality and other environmental issues. There were 24 comments in favor of the expansion. According to The Oregonian, it is estimated that garbage rates in neighboring Washington and northern Clackamas counties would go up $1.40 to $1.80 a month if Riverbend shut down. It would also mean lower revenue for Yamhill County, which collects roughly $750,000 a year from the landfill. Is the opposition to the expansion are ready to give up? Absolutely not. This will be an ongoing situation to keep an eye on. For more information on both sides of this issue, visit stopthedumpcoalition.org/News and riverbend.wm.com.
Oregon’s Riverbend Landfill and its Expansion Battle
A rural Oregon landfill is nearing capacity and now faces controversial plans to expand.