Marcus Larson/News-Register##Yamhill County Commissioner Allen Springer speaks to landfill opponents as Commissioners Mary Starrett and Stan Primozich listen on.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Yamhill County Commissioner Allen Springer speaks to landfill opponents as Commissioners Mary Starrett and Stan Primozich listen on.
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Heated hearing

Crowds spilled into aisles and stood three or more deep around the sides and back of the McMinnville Civic Center Thursday for a contentious hearing on the proposed expansion of Riverbend Landfill. More people stood in the foyer, unable to fit inside, but able to hear over foyer speakers.

The hearing ended at 3:30 p.m. with no decision made.

Commissioners said they would re-open the hearing to deliberate and make a ruling March 26 at 10 a.m.

The record will remain open until 5 p.m. March 17, to submit final written evidence.

March 20 will be the final day to submit rebuttal evidence for both sides.

Both opponents and supporters of the proposed 29-acre expansion wore stickers showing which side they were on, leading one person to compare the atmosphere to a Congressional hearing.

The hearing got off to a combative start, with Commissioner Allen Springer announcing he would not recuse himself, in defiance of a request by the McMinnville City Council.

“To me, that would be a dereliction of duty,” he said. “The pressure and perceived pressure of both sides do not affect my decision.”

Springer said he has not yet made up his mind about whether to uphold the appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of landfill expansion.

Attorney Jeff Kleinman, representing the Stop the Dump Coalition, interrupted the proceedings early to demand an opportunity to challenge Springer’s participation, and question him about any ex parte contacts.

Assistant County Counsel Todd Sadlo said the county does not provide such an opportunity, and told Kleinman he should have raised his objections before the hearing. He said, however, that a letter previously entered by Kleinman ensured that his objections were in the record, and that anyone wishing to object to the commissioners’ alleged ex parte contacts could do so as part of their comments.

The commissioners did not disclose any ex parte contact or any biases they may have, other than an announcement by County Planning Director Mike Brandt that each had taken a trip with him to visit the landfill in the weeks preceding the hearing. Several articles from the News-Register were also entered into the record, including one which detailed e-mail exchanges between Springer and Waste Management spokesperson Jackie Lang.

Kleinman questioned the lack of disclosure and attempted to challenge Springer’s ability to participate in the hearing.

Sadlo advised Springer not to engage with Kleinman. However, Springer allowed the questions.

Kleinman asked how many times Springer had met with Waste Management officials since becoming chairman of the board of commissioners in July.

“Are you aware that as economic development liaison, it gives me the right to meet with them?” Springer asked. He said he could not recall the exact number of meetings.

Kleinman said he wanted the e-mails between Lang and Springer entered into the record. Sadlo said that e-mails between a commissioner and parties from one side do not necessarily count as ex parte contact. 

Kleinman also asked about Springer attempting to meet with Lang to pray before the planning commission’s hearing on the landfill expansion on Dec. 4.

Springer invited Lang to a private prayer meeting in chambers prior to the county planning commission’s Dec. 4 landfill expansion hearing. 

“I was sorry to see I’d missed your call about meeting in the Civic Center before the hearing,” she responded in a Dec. 8 email. “I had been in there to pray earlier in the week after a chamber meeting. It would have been better to be there together, but I had to do it when I had the chance.”

Springer attempted to explain why he had sought to pray with Lang before the hearing, but was cut off by loud booing from the audience after he questioned Kleinman’s understanding of the Bible. Springer then called for order and struck his gavel. 

Kleinman asked if the opposition had been invited to this prayer session, but Springer refused to answer. 

Sadlo said he recommended not continuing “with this interrogation.” Kleinman said he would stop as long as his objections were entered into the record.

During a break, Kleinman said the county failed to follow proper procedure by not allowing the opposition the opportunity to question commissioners about possible ex parte contact or bias.

Oregon statutes allow commissioners to “cure” ex parte contact by disclosing any at the beginning of the hearing. Since Springer did not, this may provide an opportunity for the opposition in appeals later on. 

In its presentation, Waste Management provided three dimensional diagrams of how it projects the landfill would look in the future.

The 29-acre expansion would occur on the west side of the current landfill, in between Highway 18 and the current landfill.

Officials said the expansion would be the same height as the current landfill and would provide another 9.5 years of use at current disposal rates, a shorter time frame than the company has previously estimated.

Paul Burns, director of disposal operations for Waste Management’s Pacific Northwest operations, said the company had also built a new recycling center, updated plans to ensure the landfill could withstand earthquakes of magnitudes up to 9.0 on the Richter scale, and it had improved its gas collection system in order to cut down on odors caused by the landfill. 

Officials said the expanded landfill would also have enlarged vegetation buffers along Highway 18, increasing from the current 50-foot buffer to 125-foot wide. 

Tommy Brooks, lawyer for Waste Management, said the expansion and the landfill did not affect current farming practices. 

“Farming has not only been unchanged by the landfill but has increased,” Brooks said. 

Commissioner Mary Starrett questioned the green technology Waste Management is required to build as part of a previous land use decision by commissioners. 

Burns said the company still did not have an existing green technology picked out that it could build at the landfill. Any green technology facility would be built on the current site of Mulkey RV Park south of the landfill. 

Waste Management lined up many business and civic leaders to speak in support of the landfill. Twenty people spoke in support of the expansion.

Scott Wagener, general manager for SP Fiber Techonologies in Newberg, said he supported landfilll expansion because if the landfill closed, it would increase the company’s disposal costs by at least $750,000. 

Many of the landfill supporters were from Newberg. Waste Management provides trash service in Newberg and Dundee and in the unincoporated areas of the eastern part of the county.

Andy Levine of Action Equipment said his company had sold $1.9 million worth of equipment to Waste Management in the last five years and that the landfill is an excellent revenue generator for the county. 

Former McMinnville mayor Ed Gormley sent his employee Steve Farley, who said he lives near the landfill and supports its expansion, to read a letter in support of the landfill. 

Georgine Keith of Amity, who said that she and her husband use the landfill weekly, said she is afraid that if it closed, “people basically are lazy; they will just store up their garbage, and there’s going to be all sorts of critters, not very nice, and the the smell of the garbage around the properties.”

The crowd thinned as the afternoon went on, but 32 people spoke in opposition to the landfill. Another 29 had filled out comment cards, but did not appear when their names were called.

Tim Bossard of TJ Bossard Engineering, said he had sought floodplain maps from Waste Management to analyze for the opposition, but the company had refused the request.

He said that the existing dump has displaced a major section of the combined floodplains of the Yamhill River and two tributary creeks.

Opponents continued to emphasize that point, repeatedly showing photographs of the landfill surrounded by floodwaters, from December 2014, and from 2012 and 2009.

“Riverbend Landfill is outdated. Piling unsorted garbage on the banks of a river may have been the norm 50 years ago. It’s not now,” farmer Jennifer Redmond Noble told commissioners.

Noble said that “my small farm puts hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy, and it stays there. Waste Management’s profits go back to Texas.”

Some opponents repeated earlier challenges to Springer’s impartiality, with some also raising questions about Commissioner Stan Primozich, who spoke in favor of the landfill expansion while running for office and had accepted a campaign donation from Waste Management.

Friends of Yamhill County President Sid Friedman noted that, despite testimony from SP Fiber Technologies claiming it will suffer increased costs if the landfill closes, “their boiler ash does not go to Riverbend Landfill anymore. It goes to another facility and they have trumpeted that fact in other venues.”

Friedman also argued that “it is clear that they are going to be dumping more garbage on the older cells that are not constructed to modern standards.”

Friends of Yamhill County board member Tom McGreggor showed photographs and told commissioners that a small tributary stream on the site is frequently covered in litter, and that E. coli contaminated water flowing into the river has routinely exceeded state benchmarks since 2002.

Stop the Dump Coalition member Susan Meredith said she had submitted evidence showing that “toxic compounds in test wells is leachate from the landfill.”

Craig Markham, an ecologist from Dundee told commissioners that “this landfill is located in an area that is totally insane. It’s one of the worst places in Yamhill County. The only thing worse than that is making more of it.”

He said that the landfill “cuts down on flood storage capacity, (and) increases the velocity of water flowing out,” both of which cause problems downstream, and “increases the flood levels over time.”

Markham told commissioners that “the cost we’re paying is in deteriorating quality of life, and it’s happening at an accelerated rate.”

Nessa Hayes, a fisheries biologist from Yamhill, told commissioners that the proposed expansion will also displace floodwaters.

“That’s 29 acres of displaced water. That 29 acres has to go somewhere,” Hayes said. She said the most likely areas would be the small tributary flowing across the proposed expansion site, and the leachate ponds, and that neither could handle the additional volume of water.

“If it didn’t go there, the other place it could go is over Highway 18,” and onto the property of the landowner across from the landfill, she said.

Hayes told commissioners that “I know a lot of what we’re hearing sounds like Not In My Backyard, but that’s what Portland Metro is doing to us. ... They capped their landfill.”

Jules Drabkin said the trucks hauling waste from Metro tear up the roads, which farmers rely on to get their goods to market. He acknowledged that perhaps Yamhill County had a responsibility to take care of if its own trash, but it is Metro’s trash that is driving the expansion. 

Maryilyn Walster questioned whether Waste Management was as good a neighbor as it claims to be. She said Waste Management is the owner of four EPA superfund sites, and that managers in Hawaii had been indicted for fraud. She also claimed the company had been on the receiving end of a $7.5 million fine, the largest issued in Massachusetts state history after it was found Waste Management had been responsible for polluting marshlands there. 

“Waste Management is not interested in the health of the Yamhill River,” Walster said. “They want the contract with Metro and the money it brings.”

During the rebuttal phase, Brooks said the opposition had failed to prove landfill expansion did not meet land use criteria.

He also said the company had not released floodplain maps to the opposition since they are public record and could have been obtained by the opposition from FEMA.

Starrett questioned whether Franks had addressed the opposition’s main points in his rebuttal.

“Seismically unstable, uncontrolable leachate, surrounded by water, it looks as those are pretty compelling arguments,” Starrett said.

Brooks said the DEQ will ensure that Riverbend is seismically sound through its permiting process and that, so far, the landfill has followed flood plain development permitting process. 

The commissioners  adjourned for 10 minutes after the rebuttal, then returned to close the land use hearing. They will deliberate and vote on the expansion during its March 26 meeting. 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

MacGirl

Pretty sure our county commissioners have already made up there minds about going ahead with the expansion. I would be shocked if it goes the other way. Yamhill County, you get what you vote for. What was anyone thinking voting for these three?

MacGirl

OOPS! "their" not "there!"

MacGirl

OOPS! "their" not "there!"

Don Dix

'What was anyone thinking?' --- Maybe those who originally voted for expansion wanted their vote to mean something! Rather an unusual occurrence these days, wouldn't you say?

Hilltop Comnentator

Commissioner Allen Springer began the hearing with remarks that he had been the subject of a witch hunt by the press and also mentioned several times throughout the hearing that one should not believe everything printed in a newspaper. I am unaware of any published statement by Commissioner Springer or the county counsel asserting that particular meetings mentioned in the article of February 27th did not take place or were other than as characterized there, or that certain emails were not exchanged.
Allan Springer most know whether or not representatives of Friends of Yamhill County were invited to pray with Jackie Lang before the planning meeting concerning the Dump. One commissioner mentioned that they often try to get parties to pray together before taking up contentious topics. In any case such invitations should be a matter of public record and could be discovered as such. Most likely the answer will not present a flattering picture of the commission's proceedings.

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