Odds grow longer against Riverbend expansion plan

When the 87-acre Riverbend Landfill embarked on an expansion bid almost 10 years ago, its Texas overseers had no idea what they were getting into.

We did. That led us to contend, “You’re too late. Oregon’s land use system is too Byzantine to be navigated in the time you have left for yourselves, given Riverbend’s rapid fill rate and diminishing capacity.”

Incredulous, they dismissed our take out of hand. It seemed they knew better — or at least thought they did.

Publicly, nothing has changed over all these intervening years. The landfill’s Texas parent firm, Waste Management Inc., is still releasing rosy new projections after each successive setback in a seemingly unending series.

Thwarted by the state Land Use Board of Appeals? Not a problem.

Run through the ringer by the state Department of Environmental Quality? Just a temporary hurdle.

Abandoned by Recology Western Oregon and Portland Metro? Mere speed bumps on the expansion expressway.

Swatted down by the state Court of Appeals? It’ll be different next time.

The landfill expansion forces remained publicly unperturbed even when the previously narrow, localized, self-interested opposition began to draw support from the powerful likes of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, Oregon Farm Bureau and 1000 Friends of Oregon.

So it came as no great surprise that they sang yet another sunny tune when the highly selective Oregon Supreme Court made the latest Riverbend expansion appeal one of the few cases it will hear during its coming term. No matter that the court is notoriously slow-footed, and is more likely to remand the issue back for an endless set of new hearings than render a clearcut decision.

As long as a single spoonful of capacity remains at Riverbend, it seems, the Waste Management bunch will continue to see victory looming just around the corner. You have to admire their patience, persistence and optimism, even if you have long since come to think it rings more than a little hollow.

Like Oregon’s land-use and legal systems, we have never taken a hard up-and-down stand on the landfill expansion bid. Unlike its ardent supporters and opponents, we have been able to see merit on both sides.

But we think the odds of Waste Management ultimately prevailing have dwindled to the point of virtual disappearance. Last week’s Supreme Court intervention is just the latest and largest manifestation of a long, slow erosion that shows no sign of a pending reversal.


E.J. Farrar

From your lips to Waste Management's ears.

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