Letters to the Editor: Responses to Riverbend commentary

Can Stock photo / Graphic by N-R staff.
Can Stock photo / Graphic by N-R staff.

[Editor’s Note: Last week’s Viewpoints article by Paul Burns, “Riverbend’s story takes more than 140 letters,” generated a spirited response from readers in opposition to Waste Management’s ongoing operation of the Riverbend Landfill. The editorial board grouped the letters into a package that started on the front page of this week's Viewpoints section.]

Smells like an ad

I read with interest Paul Burns’ opinion piece about Riverbend Landfill last week. When I was finished reading, I looked at the end of the piece, fully expecting to see “Paid advertisement.”

Shame on the News-Register for allowing this blatant public relations statement, vaguely disguised as an opinion piece, to be printed on the front of the Viewpoints section. Mr. Burns’ statements are carefully crafted in an attempt to put a positive spin on a less-than-positive set of events and conditions.

He fails to mention that Waste Management was by no means a good neighbor when it attempted to raise the height of the landfill from its already towering form of 135 feet to 260 feet. At 135 feet high, it is the tallest structure in Yamhill County. Double that, and you’d be able to see it from much of our valley.

Then Mr. Burns mentions that the landfill’s design “goes beyond” the magnitude 9.0 earthquake design requirements. What he fails to mention is that the existing massive sections of the landfill were not designed to meet those standards — only the very newest portion.

And finally, Mr. Burns states stopping the expansion of the dump will result in the loss of a lot of revenue for Yamhill County. He fails to state that there are fair and reasonable ways to recoup that loss, notably by replacing the current fee that Waste Management pays (which comes from our dump fees) by one that is paid by the trash haulers.

You can’t make a pig look like a silk purse. Waste Management and Riverbend Landfill are not good neighbors, and that is that.

Arnie Hollander



Enough is enough

I read Paul Burns’ Viewpoint June 9 in the News-Register, and I consider it status quo.

Do the rich say, “I have enough money”? Does the military say, “Let’s stop making war”? Does the government say, “Let’s do good things for the people and the earth”? Does Congress say, “Let’s be sure we have good health care for all”?

Does the dump finally say, “We are closing the dump”?

The question we need to ask ourselves is why do we get so many Nos.

Helen Bitar


It doesn’t add up

Regarding Paul Burns’ June 9 guest editorial (or more accurately, the Waste Management advertorial), I’ve obviously been terribly confused about the whole Riverbend issue. I never realized it was a community-driven plan. I always understood it to be a Waste Management profit-driven plan.

Mr. Burns implies that “slashing” about $500,000 in annual revenue will hugely affect Yamhill County. Despite one county commissioner making a personal plea to Metro commissioners for more garbage, supposedly on my behalf, I assure you that my choice is to forego both the garbage and the money.

Mary Starrett has been on record numerous times confirming Yamhill County’s fiscal stability. As a matter of fact, Yamhill County recently increased the county investment limit from $12 million to $15 million. I don’t know about Mr. Burns, but I’ve never been able to increase my investment allocation by 25 percent in one year.

Clearly, Mike Green is up to the challenge of managing our county’s money effectively. But in case he’s looking for some ideas, I’d like to suggest looking at the 30 percent contingency allocation under land use. Dropping that contingency level to a more standard level of 15 percent would more than make up for the loss of garbage money. And processing our property taxes locally rather than sending them up to Tacoma should save money and generate jobs and revenue.

Unfortunately, Waste Management doesn’t appear to have the same quality of financial advice on their end. Waste Management has repeatedly stated that without Portland’s garbage, Riverbend isn’t financially viable for them to operate. Yet now, Mr. Burns, speaking on behalf of Waste Management, says that Riverbend will stay open for 18 years instead of ten years.

Is that a financial inaccuracy or a threat?

Patty O’Leary



Lost heritage

Three simple truths about Waste Management and its operations in the West Valley cannot be denied.

1. The Riverbend complex is not a landfill. It is a dump, pure and simple. It does not fill anything and never has. The word “landfill” is used as a nicety to mask the primitive activity of soiling ourselves.

2. Waste Management continues to permanently destroy prime Willamette farmland.

3. The late Oregon Gov. Tom McCall is rolling in his grave. For more than 20 years, the county commissioners, county planners and the Chamber of Commerce, openly and otherwise, have spearheaded the charge on behalf of Waste Management. And for what? Some extra cash? Family member job opportunities? Elimination of pesky government regulation?

As far as I can tell, these organizations are made up of people who have figured out a way to behold equivalent beauty in asphalt and concrete. Remember “Oh, beautiful for spacious skies”? Seems they’ve been left by the wayside along with the rest of our heritage. Tom McCall, where are you?

Larry Treadwell



Commentary stinks

I was a little taken aback that your June 9 issue gave such a prominent platform to Paul Burns, Waste Management’s operations director.

It was good, however, that a picture of Riverbend’s smelly mountain of trash accompanied the article so that readers could see the impact of the problem. It would have been even better if the picture had shown the landfill’s proximity to the banks of the Yamhill River and the huge flocks of scavenger birds flying over the neighboring farmland.

Mr. Burns, who lives in Portland and works for a mega-corporation based in Texas, assures us that his company’s purpose, from the beginning, has been to provide safe, cost-effective service, protect the environment and provide a revenue stream for Yamhill County.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that. I believe Waste Management’s purpose, from the beginning, has been to provide a low-cost revenue stream to the corporation at the expense of the environment and neighbors’ well being. I urge the News-Register to run an article of equal prominence written by the citizen groups opposing the continued expansion of Riverbend.

Phyllice Bradner



Don’t defend dump

I was astonished to see the article by Paul Burns, Northwest director of disposal for Waste Management, the largest waste company in the United States, in last Friday’s paper without an accompanying article providing the viewpoint that many Yamhill County citizens take — that Riverbend Landfill should have been closed in 2014 as scheduled.

Mr. Burns’ job covers the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to read a Feb. 27 East Oregonian article about Arlington’s struggle to maintain reception of Portland Metro trash, containing comments by Burns and spokesperson Jackie Lang.

Arlington, Gilliam County and Waste Management want to keep the inflow of Metro trash. Why not send it to Gilliam County, which can use the jobs and revenue?

Burns uses the words “protect the environment” twice in his article. What about the confirmed leakage of Riverbend Landfill from areas nearest the South Yamhill River and the noxious nasty odors that covered much of southwest McMinnville this winter and for the past few years?

“Worked with landfill neighbors” is another phrase he uses. That phrase, along with mention of the “450 acres for projects that connect to community values,” is a joke. The smell, the bird droppings and the mountain of leaking trash do not make good neighbors nor an environment for work or play.

And did you notice the height of the landfill in the picture topping the article, the scale of the buildings and local countryside to the height of the landfill? Is this what we want for McMinnville — our own mountain of trash located in a McMinnville gateway?

Better to look for manufacturing, agricultural or technological jobs to provide growth and fill Yamhill County’s coffers.

Karen Swenson



Just money machine

Paul Burns, in his Viewpoints cover last week, makes Riverbend sound like an essential piece of infrastructure — like clean drinking water and power lines.
Riverbend is not a public utility. It is a money machine for Waste Management, a mega-corporation based in Texas. It is not safe. Landfills leak and fail, especially “wet” landfills in floodplains where it rains nine months out of the year. It does not “protect the environment.” It releases stinky tonic gases. It is also unsightly and contaminates the groundwater.

An earthquake-related collapse would block the river and spill toxic leachate and rotting garbage into the valley. It attracts nuisance birds that spread disease, kill livestock and create litter. Heavy trucks ruin the roads.

Burns does not specify Waste Management’s community values. I will. Stewardship of the land, high-end agriculture, vineyards, clean industry, tourism and a healthy environment are important. Respect for law is a value. Recently, Waste Management dredged a stormwater pond in the floodplain without a permit. If concern for our fellow citizens is a value, ask the Mulkey residents how that worked out.

Burns implies Waste Management has technology and science on its side. In fact, many reputable engineers, hydrologists, geologists, biologists and groundwater experts challenge Waste Management’s assumptions, models, data and practices. Waste Management often relies more on legal technicalities and political clout than good science.

In the spirit of commitment, Mr. Burns should tell us how much money Waste Management mines out of Yamhill County every year.

Margaret Cross


Protect our resources

Last week Paul Burns of Waste Management wrote an article regarding Waste Management’s plans for Riverbend Landfill and how it provided benefits for Yamhill County.

There may be some benefits, but there are also many significant problems that exceed the benefits.

One of those problems is the possible contamination of the Yamhill River that could come from a leaking cell in the landfill or from water runoff during a high rainfall event. Those of us who farm and produce food for consumers rely on clean water to irrigate our crops.

We care about our customers and want to ensure them that the food we produce is of the highest quality and safe for consumption. Our farm has land downstream from the Riverbend Landfill, and we are concerned about the potential of contaminated water leaving the landfill and flowing downstream to our irrigation pumps intake and the water being applied to our food crops.

When that happens, the crop would be unsafe for human consumption and the crop would be lost. We do not have other options. The Yamhill River in that location is our only source of irrigation water. This would be the case for other farmers downstream from the landfill.

There are many, many reasons why the landfill needs to cease operations and be closed. Water of high quality for the irrigation of food crops and for the many other beneficial uses provided by Yamhill County’s signature river deserves protection.

Instead of expansion, Waste Management needs to plan for closure and the permanent containment of all of the waste at the Riverbend Landfill.

Sam Sweeney


Not buying it

Regarding Paul Burns’ June 9 Viewpoints article, nice try.

Impressive public relations spin, Waste Management, but the truth is in what you have left out. Your sentence about eight years working with landfill neighbors and others to develop a “community-driven plan” implies that one now exists. It doesn’t.

Some other examples of what you left out include that you wanted much more than the “modest” expansion, not all court and regulatory decisions have been positive, existing areas of the dump don’t meet the 9.0 seismic standard and that landfill neighbors have continuing odor and noise issues.

As for revenue, Forest Grove’s mayor testified in 2011 that his city got $450,000 per year just by letting Waste Management’s Metro trash through its transfer station for a day while Yamhill County then only got approximately 25 percent more for storing that same garbage forever and enduring the noise/odor/pollution/traffic.

Mr. Burns, I’ve been at many, many of Waste Management’s public meetings and find you and your staff to be nice people; but, I’m not buying what you’re selling. Riverbend needs to close now.

Susan Karp


All about money

It’s clear that Waste Management would like to put their spin on Portland Metro’s forward-thinking decision to divert their waste from Riverbend Landfill.
But as more customers take similar action, their Riverbend business model will surely flounder. Recology’s new McMinnville transfer station could be used to transport our non-recyclable local waste to Arlington or Coffin Butte for only a slight increase in cost, reducing the waste stream into Riverbend to a trickle.

Garbage Mountain will be closed and capped as soon as it becomes unprofitable for Waste Management. They will then move on to greener pastures, and not in 10 years as they would have us believe.

E.J. Farrar



Not the real story

The News-Register ran Paul Burns’ version of Riverbend Landfill’s troubled romance with Yamhill County June 9.

Burns is the trouble shooter extraordinaire for Waste Management, the Texas-based corporate owner of Riverbend Landfill and has been instrumental in shaping the dump’s proposed expansion.

Burns describes the past “nearly eight years” as an effort by Waste Management to work with and learn from Riverbend’s neighbors. He can’t go back further than that because nine years ago, when 135-foot-high Riverbend was already the tallest man-made structure in Yamhill County (the equivalent of a 13-story building), Waste Management proposed a “twice as high, twice as wide” expansion that would have quadrupled the landfill’s volume.

That expansion would have added 13 stories and expanded the landfill by 96 football fields. “Twice as high, twice as wide” meant a dump nearly as tall as the Portland skyline, with a footprint as long and wide as downtown McMinnville and a smell that would stink up Third Street.

Of course, compared to that, everything about Waste Management’s current expansion proposal seems puny.

What Burns didn’t say is that the proposed expansion’s seismic design does not make the dump’s existing cells stronger. Any “green tech” at the landfill will not be built for at least seven years and perhaps not even then. Waste Management CEO David Steiner told Forbes Magazine last fall that the company was no longer investing in new technologies.

The fees the county will lose because Waste Management brings in less garbage can be made up by levying similar fees on trash haulers, without affecting garbage rates.

The sole reason Waste Management moved away from its “twice as high, twice as wide” plan was community outrage as Stop the Dump Coalition, its allies, and hundreds of citizen activists raised their voices to protest.

Susan Watkins





In you preface to this collection of letters, you say 140 were received. In the print version of the paper, you state you printed the front and the back pages of Viewpoints , so you could show' most' of them. How are nine letters 'most' of 140? Seems like someone at NR could brush up their math skills. The unhappiness about the Riverbend article stems from your incredibly biased presentation. Why let only one side of have a platform for their view?


I believe the lead-in was a reference to Paul Burns' original opening comment about a tweet of 140 letters circling the world, not the actual number of reader letters received.


That's correct, PAO. We quoted Burns as saying it takes more than the 140 characters allowed in a tweet to explain the issue.

We expected a goodly number of letters and we got a goodly number. We gave them the section front, just as we did for the Riverbend folks the previous week, plus much of the inside, which is a lot more than the Riverbend crew got. And if there are more letters next week, we'll run more letters on the subject.
We didn't, pardon the pun, "landfill" any opposition letters. For that matter, we didn't "dump" any letters, period.
We have run story after story on the opposition, and letter after letter, and will continue to do so. And we gave pro and con equal space in succeeding weeks, plus some extra for the con that will likely continue.
How is that allowing only one side to have a platform? I don't see it.
Steve Bagwell, Managing Editor


Thank you, Steve, for your response.


My mistake! I apparently didn't do a good job reading the print version. Sorry if the original post came off as snippy.

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