By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Battle over berm continues in Salem

While the arguments presented to the Court of Appeals Thursday morning were technical and complicated, the berm issue itself is simple: If Riverbend Landfill can’t expand its capacity, it is expected to run out of room sometime next year, forcing it to close.

The mechanically stabilized earthen berm would provide space for another 1 million cubic yards of waste, according to the company. Securing Department of Environmental Quality approval for the 40-foot berm is, therefore, critical to its continued operation.

In addition to waiting for Thursday’s LUCS appeal to work it’s way through the legal system, the landfill’s ability to withstand a major earthquake has come under scrutiny at the instigation of the state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. In a Jan. 16 letter to the DEQ, Director Vicki S. McConnell said, “We recommend that DEQ consider in designs for expansion to this landfill the magnitude 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.”

Landfill neighbor and leading opponent Ramsey McPhillips applauded the move. He said he didn’t understand why DOGAMI hadn’t weighed in sooner.

“The seismic modeling should have gone to DOGAMI long ago,” McPhillips said. “Riverbend Landfill is a massive pile of trash intertwined with complicated toxic-producing systems sitting on a river. If the liners fail, if the gas systems fail, if the leachate collection systems fail, Yamhill County and the South Yamhill River will be affected to a degree that we do not see coming back from for a very long, long time.

“It will be very costly. We need to get this right.”

Landfill spokeswoman Jackie Lang said the 11th-hour DOGAMI letter was unexpected. She termed it “just one more issue, just one more way for opponents to pose their question about seismic standards.”

She said, “We have been forthright and earnest in our efforts to prepare a complete application that answers all of the relevant questions and meets the criteria.”

DEQ permit engineer Bob Schwarz said staff from the two agencies met Wednesday on the seismic issue, the only one remaining to be resolved. He said they were expected to meet next week for additional discussion.

Schwarz said he anticipate a decision on the berm later this month.

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