By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

County's Riverbend decision affirmed

In rejecting a challenge filed by a group of neighbors, the ruling validates an earlier decision by the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

It does not represent approval of the berm itself. The state Department of Environmental Quality has granted tentative approval, subject to a final ruling expected in mid-May, but further legal challenges may arise there as well.

Riverbend’s parent firm, Waste Management Inc., originally proposed to erect a mechanically stabilized earthen berm around the entire perimeter of the existing site. It subsequently decided to seek authorization from the DEQ for a berm only along the highway side of the fill.

For several years, Waste Management has been projecting the landfill would reach capacity on its existing footprint by 2014. In response, it is seeking approval in separate proceedings for authorization to effectively double landfill capacity by expanding onto adjacent acreage also under its ownership.

However, Waste Not, the Stop the Dump Coalition and a cadre of allies have tied the expansion effort up with a series of land-use challenges. The berm is designed to stave off a potentially disruptive and costly closure in the meantime, allowing the company some breathing room.

In its reduced form, the application calls for construction of a berm along the western portion of the site, paralleling Highway 18. Rising to a maximum height of 40 feet, it would provide space for another 1 million cubic yards of waste, according to Waste Management, continuing the operation at least two more years.

A compatibility statement from the local county planning department must be submitted with such applications, and the county provided one in March, based on its original issuance of  LUCS in 1992. Opponents appealed on the grounds enough time has passed to demand the county start over, but both LUBA and the Court of Appeals rejected that argument.

Jackie Lang, Riverbend’s spokeswoman, said the Court of Appeals decision validated the company’s efforts to be respectful and follow all rules and regulations. “It confirms that LUBA got it right,” she said.

“We are planning for the future with a great deal of care and diligence and this decision reflects that. We want to figure out how to make Riverbend’s continued operation work well for the community.”

County Planning Director Mike Brandt also expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

“It confirms the 1992 process and the decision by the board were correct,” he said. “It also confirms the Oregon land use system works, in that people were notified in 1992 and chose not to appeal.

“Now, 21 years later, they might want a second bite of the apple. But that’s not how the process works.”

Susan Watkins, a spokeswoman for the opposition, expressed frustration and disappointment.

“First is the obvious one that it’s disappointing the commissioners aren’t hearing how the landfill has changed since 1992,” she said. “They are relying on old information and that’s good enough for them somehow.”

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