By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Berm protest produces some unexpected guests

What did come as a surprise was the accompanying corps of Native American drummers, armed with their instruments. Landfill opponents claimed they were affiliated with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, but they said they were acting on their own, which was confirmed by a tribal spokesman who said the tribe’s governing council has never taken a position on the operation of the McMinnville landfill.

The drum corps contingent accused the landfill of continued desecration of native ancestors laid to rest in burial grounds below. However, contacted for a response, Eirik Thorsgard, who heads up the tribe’s cultural protection and historic preservation programs, said the landfill does not overlay any tribal burial grounds.

“As the official tribal government resource officer, it’s my job to protect burial grounds,” Thorsgard said. “If I thought there was something there, I would be involved. There is nothing that supports the claim of burial grounds there at all.”

Waste Management spokeswoman Jackie Lang said the last-minute raising of false burial ground allegations dismayed her.

“Clearly, it was a point of major confusion,” she said. “That was disappointing, because tribal representatives have been involved in this discussion all along.”

Lang said the company has always been sensitive about native artifacts, and has taken pains to comply with state and federal regulations at every turn.

Waste Management is seeking to nearly double the landfill’s footprint, giving decades of renewed life. In the interim, it is proposing to construct a berm along the highway side to give it a couple of years of additional capacity, while its expansion bid, subjected to a series of appeals, plays out in the courts.

It has encountered fierce opposition on both scores.

The theme of the nearly 40 people who testified was to deny the permit, hoping that would force closure of the landfill once and for all. They accused the DEQ of failing to perform the due diligence required to ensure the berm is capable of withstanding a catastrophic earthquake of the kind known to have struck the West Coast every few hundred years.

Among those taking issue with DEQ’s seismic analysis were local engineers.

DEQ and Waste Management denied that, saying the agency had taken extreme care with its seismic studies before proposing to issue the permit being sought.

A detailed exchange between engineering firms weighing in on the issue can be found online at It can also be turned up through a Google search for “Riverbend Landfill,” along with an array of other material.

While the oral testimony was unanimously negative, Permit Engineer Bob Schwarz said he has received a lot of written testimony in support of the berm, including a statement from the McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce urging approval.

Many of those who testified brought visual aids for inclusion in the official record. Among them was Marilyn Walster, who submitted a plastic bucket filled with household chemicals, household refuse and bagged cat feces, aimed at making the point all of these things are finding their way into the landfill.

However, Sherrie Mathison, the county’s solid waste analyst, told the News-Register that chemicals cannot legally be introduced into the waste stream. She said the county hosts periodic hazardous waste collections aimed at keeping them out.

Scharz said written comments carry as much weight as oral comments, may be submitted through 5 p.m. Friday, April 5. He said they may be faxed to 541-298-7330, e-mailed to, posted at or mailed to Bob Schwarz, Permit Engineer, Oregon DEQ, 400 E. Scenic Drive, Suite 307, The Dalles, OR, 97058.

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