By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Berm application under seismic scrutiny

The state Department of Environmental Quality checked one of them off its list at the end of December, involving flood plain and floodway mapping. However, the remaining issue, the berm’s ability to withstand an earthquake, remains unresolved.

Opponents argue the standard being applied by the DEQ doesn’t match the one being applied by sister agencies, including U.S. Geological Survey, the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission and Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries — an issue the DEQ strongly disputes.

Earlier this week, William Kabeiseman, attorney for Waste Not of Yamhill County and the Stop the Dump Coalition, filed a request with the Environmental Quality Commission, DEQ’s policymaking board, for a moratorium on permit applications in Western Oregon pending adoption of a tougher standard.

He is proposing ability to withstand a quake of 9.0 magnitude. He maintains that has become the industry standard, while DEQ is continuing to use 8.5.

“Unfortunately, DEQ continues to rely on an outmoded 8.5 standard, at least in reviewing expansion and construction at Riverbend Landfill,” Kabeiseman said.

But DEQ permit engineer Bob Schwarz dismissed the notion DEQ is relying an an 8.5 standard.

He said that’s simply not correct. The seismic analysis under review is based on a site-specific evaluation, he said. 

“We’re basing a decision on current information,” Schwarz said. “The seismic regulations we are governed by don’t specify a number. You have to evaluate based on a seismic event given a certain probability.

“These calculations are very complicated. Not only did we hire our own experts to help us with this, Waste Management and Waste Not have their experts as well. There are three consulting firms communicating on this. To some extent, we’re getting into somewhat esoteric questions between the experts.”

Schwarz concluded, “We’re waiting for resolution on the latest set of questions. This has been a long process of questions and answers, and more questions, more answers. When that’ll be completely resolved, I’m not going to predict.”

Jackie Lang, communications director for Waste Management, opposed the call for a moratorium pending development of new standards. “Any consideration of new standards would need to be part of a broader discussion because it would impact roads, bridges, hospitals, facilities and structures across the state,” she said.

“For our part, it is our commitment and our practice to meet and exceed state and federal regulations. We are committed to protecting the environment and are in full compliance with environmental regulations.”

Waste Not contends liquefaction would undercut the integrity of the landfill, but she said that assertion is unfounded.

“These assertions have been investigated and addressed at length by seismologists and earthquake geotechnical engineers hired by Waste Management and experts hired by DEQ,” she said. “For our part, we know a great deal about the soils and the geology under and around the landfill.

“Liquefaction happens when soil loses its strength under seismic loading. At Riverbend, we know the subsoils are dense enough to minimize and contain the impacts of any possible liquefaction.”

She said, “We may not be able to prevent some type of liquefaction, but the landfill and the proposed berm are designed and engineered to prevent liquefaction from impacting the integrity of our environmental protection systems. Under the existing regulations, we are confident about this.”

EQC said the petition from Kabeiseman would be reviewed initially by the DEQ staff. It said the staff would present an analysis to the commission for its consideration.

The EQC has a special meeting scheduled Jan. 22 to address an unrelated petition, and has decided to add the new petition to its agenda.

That portion of the meeting will focus on seismic analysis questions raised by McMinnville-area residents, said Stephanie Caldera, an EQC assistant. Because the meeting is informational, no recommendation for action is expected to emerge from it.

The EQC’s next regular meeting is scheduled for March.

The other pending issue was resolved at the end of December when FEMA issued a letter of map revision, which includes maps showing the boundaries of the flood plain, flood way, and Riverbend Landfill.

Schwarz said prior to the revision, the map showed that the flood plain and flood way boundary go right through the landfill.

“Waste Management specifically located the landfill so it would be along the correct boundary with proper hydraulic calculations,” he said. “For some reason that is not clear to anybody, the information gathered in the early 80’s was not submitted to FEMA and was therefore not reflected in the FEMA mapping.”

“The unresolved issue was a longstanding concern for landfill opponents. So now the jumble is clarified.”

He said, “Nothing has changed. The map has changed, the facts haven’t.” 


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