By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Riverbend breaks ground on berm

“We’ve been ready for some time, and we’ve begun demolition,” said spokeswoman Jackie Lang on Friday. “We are mobilizing for construction today.

“We’ve got crews on site working on demolition so we can begin construction immediately. It’s going to be a very tight timeline, because of the weather.”

Lang said the company anticipates completion of the mechanically stabilized earthen berm, designed to extend along the highway side of the landfill, by the end of this year.

It took the DEQ 14 months to conduct its review of the application. That’s longer than usual, according to Permit Engineer Bob Schwarz.

The landfill was projected to reach capacity sometime next year, but the berm is expected to give it another two years. By then, Waste Management hopes to win approval for an expansion of the 85-acre landfill onto 55 to 60 adjacent acres, extending its lifespan by about two decades.

The company originally proposed adding a berm on the river side as well as the highway side of the landfill, which went into service 1982. That would give it even more of a time cushion.

It withdrew its application for a riverside berm in the face of intense opposition. It now plans to seek approval of an additional berm, Lang said, but not necessarily featuring the same design and alignment as originally proposed.

“We downsized the original proposal for a longer berm to simplify the process,” Lang said. “As we look forward, it’s very likely that we will ask permission to build another phase of the berm. But I want to be clear, the location and design of that berm are not yet determined.”

Portions of the existing landfill will be gradually phased out over the next few years, she said, regardless of how the permitting processes for a second berm and a major landfill expansion play out. She said that would include placement of a final cap and the planting of native grasses as a cover.

Despite emerging technologies promising to significantly reduce waste volume, “We expect that there will always be a need for landfill capacity in the world,” Lang said. “What’s changing is that in the future, the landfill will be a component of a larger toolkit that’s used to minimize waste and manage it safely.”

That’s why the company is committed to the local expansion, she said.

Lang said the new berm will displace the landfill’s recycling center, scales, scale house and entrance. She said replacement of those facilities is built into the projected $12 million cost.

She said the contract had been awarded to Goodfellow Brothers of Portland, but the company would be employing local subcontractors to the extent feasible.

“It is our policy and practice to hire local contractors and vendors whenever possible,” she said. “Decisions are still being made about subcontractors.”

The company plans to open its new recycling center sometime next year. Lang said the permit process stretched out too long to allow its completion this year, as originally hoped.

“The process certainly took longer then we had expected, but we appreciated the full community discussion on this project,” she said. “Now it’s time to move forward.”

On a separate track, Waste Management is in the process of developing a community stewardship plan for 450 acres of the surrounding buffer zone it owns. By the end of the year, a Stewardship Committee representing a broad cross-section of community interests expects to release the first in a series of plans for various portions of the property.

Riverbend won county approval on Nov. 9, 2009, for an expansion that would have effectively doubled its local landfill footprint. However, it has been tied up in a series of appeals ever since, with no end in immediate sight.

Lang said the company is now eyeing a scaled back version of no more than 60 acres. It has reserved a 25-acre tract for development of green technology designed to significantly reduce the waste stream requiring burial, serving to justify a smaller expansion.

“At this point, we think the best long-term plan is for a smaller landfill coupled with some type of green technology that uses waste to generate energy or perhaps clean fuels,” she said.

The DEQ said it issued the berm permit, over vociferous opposition, because it “met all applicable state and federal environmental laws.” Schwarz said he was confident it would stand up from a technical point of view.

He acknowledged, “There are a lot of people who are upset by that, and we don’t take that lightly.” But he said, “In the end, it comes down to standards and requirements. It complies with federal and state regulations, and that is what we have the authority to review.”

Because the DEQ issued a tentative approval in February, landfill foes weren’t surprised to see it finalized Thursday.

“We knew it was a foregone conclusion, but every now and again we thought maybe they would do the right thing,” said Ilsa Perse, representing Waste Not of Yamhill County.

She went on to say, “This is not done. This conversation is very far from over.”

But she said nothing was necessarily imminent. “We are going to take some time to decide which road to take from here,” she said.

In a formal press release, Waste Not expressed its disapproval this way:

“This community has suffered long enough from the adverse effects of a major garbage dump. Waste Management has never successfully managed the odors, noise, lights, traffic, dust and other impacts generated by the existing facility and now they want to increase its size. This community should not have to endure more years of road-damaging trucks, obnoxious odors, air and water pollution, or litter. Plans call for a 60-acre expansion abutting Highway 18 (and) another 20 years of waste left to rot forever on our riverbanks.”

Lang countered by saying the company makes every effort to communicate with neighbors, has made a substantial investment in mitigating complaints about odor, noise, lights, traffic and dust, and has altered its operating hours and invested in a gas collection system to address issues. She said the new system is already collecting 13 percent more landfill gas, and continued improvement is expected as it is fine-tuned.

As an example of company efforts to communicate proactively, she cited a May 28 letter to neighbors noting:

“We are currently placing waste along the northern slope of the landfill, in areas visible from Highway 18. This work is part of our DEQ-approved grading plan and is necessary to prepare for construction of the final cap over these portions of the landfill.

“Now through early July, this work will involve removing tarps in areas where waste has been covered for some time. As we remove tarps, these areas containing old waste may temporarily emit a garbage odor. We are mitigating the potential odor and visual impacts by covering the waste with soil and/or temporary tarps at the end of each work day.”

To view the DEQ berm approval report, and the community testimony submitted during the consideration projess, visit:

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