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LUCS appeal dismissed by LUBA

Nov 1, 2012


By Nathalie Hardy
Of the News-Register


The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has dismissed a challenge to county issuance of a Land Use Compatibility Statement in support of a Riverbend Landfill berm application.

Neighbors challenged county assurance to the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is weighing Riverbend’s berm plan, that the plan fully complied with local land use regulations. They maintained the plan should be subject to the site design review process, because it did not qualify automatically as a permitted use under previous decisions.

LUBA rejected that argument. However, opponents could pursue their challenge further in the courts, potentially tying up the process for an extended period.

The issue arose when Waste Management Inc., the landfill’s Houston-based parent firm, applied for DEQ approval for a mechanically stabilized earthen berm around the perimeter of the existing site. Waste Management later withdrew its original application and submitted a scaled-down version, but the same issue applied.

For several years, Waste Management has been projecting the landfill would reach capacity on its existing footprint by 2014. To stave off a potentially disruptive and costly closure, it has been pursuing authorization for a major expansion onto adjacent acreage it owns.

However, the expansion project has become stalled in a series of land use challenges. Erecting a berm would give the landfill some additional breathing room.

The company’s current 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.

A Land Use Compatibility Statement from the local county planning department must be submitted with such applications under DEQ rules. When the county provided one in March, neighbors appealed.

DEQ says it does not plan to address the berm issue until the LUCS issue is resolved, and that may or may not now be the case. Opponents have not yet decided whether to take their case on its the courts.

Petitioner Ramsey McPhillips expressed disappointment in and disagreement with the LUBA rationale. He said he isn’t convinced that compatibility studies authorized in 1980 “envisioned what this giant regional landfill has become and wishes to become in 2012.”

McPhillips, whose family farm abuts the landfill, said

“The county commissioners have ceded unbridled expansion of the current landfill footprint to Waste Management, and we believe that was not what was planned for in 1980. In fact, it was just the opposite back in 1980. We planned for the current footprint to remain out of sight, with no smells or noise, with a capacity for local use til the year 2032.

“That is not what we got. The landfill has became a mountain filled up with out-of-county trash 20 years early.”

He said, “We were simply trying to review the compatibility studies to see what went wrong and if this new technology will make things worse.”

Susan Watkins of the opposition Stop the Dump coalition, also a landfill neighbor, expressed disappointment. She questioned the reasoning of LUBA members, saying, “What they seem to be saying is that a decision made in 1980, under 1980 conditions, still stands today, without a second look at it, even though anyone with an eyeball or nose can tell they aren’t living up to the restrictions of those 1980 conditions,” she said. 

County officials saw it entirely differently. “The LUCS was a straightforward sign-off, since the 1992 board of commissioners had decided there was no height limitation placed on the original landfill,” said County Planner Ken Friday.

Friday noted how the county commissioners had voted four years ago to approve a landfill expansion that included a height limitation. But that action had been overturned on appeal, leading Riverbend to fall back on an interim berm plan in order to extend capacity on the existing footprint.

“Ironically, the 2008 expansion approved by the present board of commissioners contained a height limitation recommended by the planning director,” Friday said. “If the courts had ultimately upheld the expansion, then a berm like the one proposed would not have been allowed.”

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