By editorial board • 

Foes carried the day in grueling landfill battle

On June 22, 2006, Waste Management Inc., an international waste disposal behemoth based in Houston announced plans to expand its 87-acre Riverbend Landfill.

Otherwise, the company said, the local disposal site, developed in 1983 and brought under its ownership in 1992, was destined to reach capacity by 2014. And that, the company warmed, would force us to ship our waste a significantly greater distance at a significantly greater cost — perhaps all the way to the Eastern Oregon community of Arlington, where it owns more than 12,000 acres, more than 1,200 of which are already approved for waste disposal.

But Waste Management has faced intense opposition every step of the way. And while recent Yamhill County approval may suggest otherwise, we have to concur with a March 2015 column in which Publisher Jeb Bladine proclaimed in this space, “Landfill opponents have ‘won.’”

In the initial go-round in 2009, the county authorized the company to pile trash 260 feet deep on 109 additional acres, providing a theoretical maximum of 28,340-acre-feet. In the latest one, it authorized the company to pile trash only 137 feet deep on 29 additional acres, a theoretical maximum of just 3,973-acre-feet. Neither theoretical is achievable, but the ratio holds.

The company projected the original expansion would be good for 25 to 30 years, but the math suggests at least 50 years. It is estimating the expansion approved last month would be good for nine to 10 years, which seems realistic if fill rates hold.

The county has attached a host of conditions. The most notable, perhaps, commit Waste Management to development of a high-tech waste-to-energy facility on 25 adjacent acres within seven years, and to compensate local farmers for all losses they alleged in the most recent round of testimony.

This is the second approval the county commissioners have granted in recent months. The first was remanded for reconsideration of a single point — impact on local farmers — which their compensation condition seems to address.

So the company has won, right? In the narrowest of constructions, it certainly seems so. But in virtually any broader construction, the opposition emerges as the clear victor.

Opponents have succeeded in dramatically scaling back the size, scope, duration and nature of the local operation. Cutting its lease on life to a mere 10 years or less, they have relegated it to essentially phaseout status. And winning mandatory introduction of green technology represents another big victory.

We neither see Ramsey McPhillips, who farms 525 acres abutting about 650 owned by his arch-nemesis, settling for 10 more years, nor his allies in wine, tourism and conservation circles acceding to that — at least not without a further fight.

While our analysis shows the county’s compensation condition all but closing the door on opponents’ appeal hopes, it also suggests they have effectively carried the day nonetheless.

They have every right, even if they are of no mind to exercise it, to simply declare victory and quit the field. And we think we speak for the vast majority in wishing they would. After a decade of war on this issue, we would really relish 10 years of peace in compensation.

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