By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Riverbend landfill hearing extended

Rusty Rae/News-Register##Riverbend Landfill this week
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Riverbend Landfill this week
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Riverbend Landfill this week
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Riverbend Landfill this week

The county had received 61 comments in opposition to the expansion application and four in support as of Wednesday afternoon. But so many more poured in that evening and Thursday morning that commissioners said they could not adequately consider them in time for the 10 a.m. meeting.

They agreed to hold the record open for another week to let all parties submit additional written testimony, and to let people respond to the last-minute comments.

All three commissioners wore masks at Thursday’s meeting, in contrast to last week, when commissioners Rick Olson and Mary Starrett did not. Some protesters attended the meeting, and masks are mandatory indoors when the public is present.

Starrett said she had received an e-mail asking her to speak to Kulla about recusing himself from the decision, alleging that his wife Katie had led the Stop the Dump coalition, and that the couple had been involved in litigation against the landfill.

Neither allegation was true, Kulla said. He claimed he had received campaign contributions from those who oppose the landfill, as well as an offer to “guarantee” his re-election if he voted to approve the expansion.

Kulla said that he was declaring a potential conflict of interest because he is a farmer and the hearing concerns potential impacts to farmers adjacent to the landfill. Kulla’s farm is not adjacent to the site, and he said he remains open-minded about the testimony.

Attorney Tommy Brooks, who represents landfill owner Waste Management, told the board in written testimony that it had already determined that potential impacts to farm practices from the landfill expansion “are not cumulatively significant.”

Now, he argued, the county only needs to make clear why.

The remand from the Land Use Board of Appeals “did not reverse any of the above findings, nor did it require the Board to conclude that there are significant cumulative impacts,” Brooks wrote. “Instead, LUBA’s decision requires the Board to make more detailed findings with respect to each farm unit where multiple allegations of farm impacts have been made.”

A couple who operate a falcon program intended to drive away nuisance birds from the landfill wrote a letter in support of the expansion, saying that it is important to their livelihood, while several area farmers wrote that it has caused significant damage and lost income, and an expansion will cause more.

Farmer Sam Sweeney of Dayton argued that the landfill poses dangers not only to adjacent farmers, but to Oregon’s worldwide reputation for producing high quality hay and straw.

He said landfill litter poses many problems in farm fields and must be picked up routinely, significantly increasing the cost of producing hay.

Litter that remains undetected can get caught in the baler and jam the needles and tying mechanisms, he said.

“If a part of the baler is broken, it requires a trip to town to order a replacement part that may take days to be delivered. This significantly adds to the cost of hay production. All it takes is one small piece of litter to cause this to happen,” Sweeney wrote.

In addition, he wrote, “If Oregon’s reputation is damaged due to litter in the hay, the market can be lost, which results in the loss of significant income for all hay farms in Oregon.”

The county also received letters from two businesses that use the landfill that said it would increase their costs to have to take their refuse elsewhere.

Joseph Schaffner, who operates a construction cleanup company, wrote there was “not another friendly, clean and professional environment in close proximity to Riverbend Landfill” that he can use instead.

Bruce Cook of Integrity Builders Inc. wrote that he uses the landfill monthly, and appreciates “the ease of access to a disposal site. This helps reduce the cost of projects in the area.”

Two different geologists who live in the county wrote in opposition, saying the landfill cannot survive an earthquake because it sits on soils prone to liquefaction, and said it poses a danger downstream to McMinnville in the event that it fails. Both predicted a failure of the landfill’s retaining wall would be catastrophic.

Richard McJunkin, who said he is both a certified hydrogeologist and a certified engineering geologist, acknowledged in his testimony that Waste Management maintains that the landfill can withstand a Cascade Subduction Zone earthquake of magnitude 8 or greater.

However, he wrote, “Even though the landfill was approved by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, significant engineered data were omitted from the Waste Management and DEQ approved landfill analyses.”

McJunkin wrote that any failure of the landfill would be “the single largest environmental disaster in the post European settlement of Oregon” with cleanup costs in the range of $500 million to $750 million, and possibly $1 billion.

Geologist Sheila Alfsen wrote that if the soils under the landfill liquify in an earthquake and the landfill fails, it would “cause a flood of garbage and debris downstream into McMinnville, an environmental disaster nearly unparalleled in history.”

Additional testimony is due by 5 p.m. July 16. Parties may then provide written rebuttal to all testimony, until 5 p.m. July 23.

Riverbend will then have until 5 p.m. July 30, to supply any final arguments.

Commissioners will reopen the hearing on Aug. 6, at 10 a.m. to hear the staff recommendation.

Testimony may be sent by e-mail to the planning department, at, or delivered or mailed to the planning department, at 525 N.E. Fourth Street, McMinnville, Oregon, 97128.


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