By editorial board • 

City could use substance in its eco-friendly moves

The McMinnville City Council’s Tuesday night decision to divert municipal waste to an out-of-state landfill arrived with a hefty dose of self-congratulation all around. But the city needs to embrace some followup action if it wants to avoid a perception of mere grandstanding.

The council has openly opposed operation of Riverbend Landfill, which lies about two miles southwest of city limits. And it’s not alone in that, as the landfill seems to have fallen badly out of favor.

Not one resident or business representative testified against the city’s proposal to begin diverting local waste to Cowlitz County’s Headquarters Landfill, even though that will entail a 10 percent across-the-board increase for McMinnville customers. But in some ways, the move seems counter-intuitive, even counter-productive.

McMinnville wants the landfill gone, but diverting local trash may actually serve to keep it open longer. Reduced volume could give it a significantly longer lease on life, which would have particular impact in the event Riverbend’s parent company ultimately prevailed in its ongoing expansion bid.

While the city’s decision is largely symbolic, it reflects Portland Metro’s June decision to terminate its contract with Riverbend in 2020. That is a much more crushing blow to the local landfill, as Metro is its largest customer.

At the time, the company downplayed the move, saying it simply means longer life for the local landfill — the same thing it is saying today about the city decision. If more dominoes fall, in the form of other jurisdictions following suit, it would lend the city move more credence.

Earlier this year, the city enacted another largely symbolic measure — to ban plastic bags.

How about something with more direct substance? The city might start down that track by determining how much the long-haul trucking of local waste will increase its carbon footprint, then find ways to counterbalance the additional CO2 from the 100-mile diesel-powered trek.

The city might learn a lesson from staunch landfill opponent Ramsey McPhillips.

For many years, his public involvement didn’t go beyond being an implacable landfill foe, fighting court battles together with local advocacy groups. But he and some of his allies then formed Zero Waste, a local nonprofit that volunteers at community events.

Zero Waste has made a real contribution to cutting the amount of local waste being landfilled. It has established a positive presence in the community as a result, free of partisan rancor.

Following his lead, the council might, for example, infuse its next goal-setting session with some tangible environmental issues and strategies. As it stands, it has left itself open to a claim that it’s a nanny state operation, full of sound and fury, signifying very little, all posture and little impact.

The council might also conduct a serious financial analysis of the 10 percent rate hike connected to the landfill switch. Is that just a nice round number, or does it reflect the actual cost of adding a long-haul shipping component?

We’re getting plenty of sizzle from the city. Maybe it’s time to incorporate some substance.


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