By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Commissioners approve landfill zone change

The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners voted 2-0 Thursday to approve a zone change application by Waste Management Inc. designed to pave the way for expansion of Riverbend Landfill. The vote included a condition limiting future landfill expansion to the proposed 37 additional acres.

Commissioner took a surprise step by requiring that Waste Management initiate a green technology facility within seven years of when the Department of Environmental Quality issues a permit for landfill expansion. That timeline could be sooner, tied to Riverbend’s fill of

3.6 million tons of solid waste in the expanded area, which is roughly seven years of collecting 510,000 tons of garbage annually.

Thursday’s approval allows for rezoning of the current 88-acre landfill and the property surrounding it from Public Works Safety to

Exclusive Farm Use. The action complies with a county ordinance and state law making landfills a permitted use in EFU zones.

In November, the county planning commission voted 5-3 to recommend rejection of this rezoning bid. Citizen planners thus agreed with a staff conclusion that Waste Management had failed to fully make its case for the expansion.

The planning commission is advisory to the three-member board of commissioners. In this case two commissioners — Kathy George and Allen Springer — made the decision as Commissioner Mary Stern recused herself because her husband works for Waste Management.

The Texas firm’s proposal comes as its existing 88-acre Riverbend site nears capacity. Waste Management hopes to develop a waste-to-energy plant on adjacent acreage, serving to give the relatively small expansion site a much longer lease on life.

Opponents objected to the notion that land for a landfill could be rezoned to EFU, arguing that such zoning is intended for property to be put into farm use.

Thursday, county Planning Director Mike Brandt did not recommend approval or denial of the application, saying sufficient evidence and testimony was presented to support either. 

Brandt did recommend a limited use overlay designed to prevent unfettered landfill expansion on Waste Management’s property, which was unanimously recommended by the planning commission. He also proposed the three-part condition requiring Waste Management to follow through on its green technology commitments, perhaps sooner than planned.

“Eliminating the landfill,” said George, “is not a responsible decision for the community. Eliminating the landfill is not a green decision. Because the board’s past decisions in favor of Waste Management have been based largely on the recognition that alternative technology would eventually supersede landfills, a condition is proposed to ensure that this technology will be brought to Yamhill County. I look forward to the changes that the future will bring.”

George said she hoped the condition wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. And shortly after the meeting, Waste Management spokeswoman Jackie Lang said the company would accept the condition “in the interest of being the best community partner we can possibly be in Yamhill County.”

Lang continued, “We asked the county for the opportunity to continue to be part of this community. This approval of the zone change gives us that opportunity.”

“All in all,” said George, “the landfill has been a benefit to our community. In spite of the opinion of some, I have not seen any compelling evidence showing that the landfill is negatively impacting our county. Eighty percent of the existing houses in the area around the landfill have been constructed since the landfill was created.

The alternative to approval, said George, would be make this “a NIMBY county that exports our trash instead of dealing with it ourselves.” It would result in new transfer stations within McMinnville and Newberg, she said, with potential problems of smell, trash on roadways and truck traffic.”

“The repercussions from a no vote would be many,” said George. “It would undoubtedly raise rates to consumers, immediately and long term, without local control over the rate system or local benefit from the franchise and tipping fees.”

Springer said he struggled with the decision.

“I have done my best to strike a balance of fairness and responsibility to the citizens of Yamhill County,” he said. “For some, I will not have gone far enough; to others, I will have gone much too far. But to all I would like to say that you have received my best judgment in this matter.”

Members of the Stop the Dump Coalition were disappointed by the decision.

“Although the county focus on green technology is laudable, the condition adopted by the commissioners to implement this technology at Riverbend has serious loopholes. The most obvious is a failure to require a minimum rate of waste diversion from the expanded landfill,” said opponents in a press release.

“The Stop the Dump Coalition fully expects that, if appealed, the commissioners’ decision would be overturned by the Oregon Land Use Board of appeals, just as approval of an enormously expanded dump was five years ago,” the statement continued. “And, once again, the taxpayers would be on the hook for legal expenses incurred because the county made yet another incorrect land-use decision based on favoring special interests instead of attention to the law.”

For opposing neighbor Ramsey McPhillips, Thursday’s decision was bitterly disappointing.

“Aside from the fact this decision is seen as abjectly cruel to the farming families being destroyed by the dump, this decision gives Portland Metro the biggest victory,” McPhillips said. “By rezoning the landfill this early in the game of regional garbage flow, Yamhill County’s commissioners give Portland Metro a signal to re-direct all of its trash into our county, making Riverbend its primary disposal site. When troubles arise in the future, with the earthquake, fouled water, lost tourism and soured county branding, Metro and Waste Management will walk and it will be Yamhill County left with the pile of their trash on our river.”

Waste Management could wait to see if opponents file an appeal to LUBA, which is likely. Or the company could immediately submit for a site design review permit.

Commissioners plan to formally adopt the zone change with its seven conditions at 10 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 13 in Room 32 of the county courthouse. Opponents have 21 days from the time of formal adoption to file an appeal with LUBA.

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