UPDATE: April 9, 2021: The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals denied Waste Management’s challenge to a 2020 decision by Yamhill County commissioners not to approve a permit application for expansion of the Riverbend Landfill. In its April 9 decision, the board upheld the commissioners’ findings, which stated Waste Management’s proposed litter control plan would not be adequate to protect nearby farmers from significantly changing their growing and harvesting practices or increasing operational costs to clean up their properties.
Jackie Lang, Waste Management's senior area manager for public affairs, said the company is “reviewing the decision and will assess options later this month.” She said the Riverbend expansion plan “goes above and beyond in terms of environmental protections and considerations for neighbors and the community,” adding the company has participated in more than 25 community meetings and public hearings related to the proposed expansion over the past 12 years.
- Waste Management recently faced another setback in its efforts to expand the Riverbend Landfill in Yamhill County, Oregon, following a 2-1 vote against the plan by the county board of commissioners on Aug. 6. According to the News-Register, the company's bid to add 29 acres to the 88-acre site is nonetheless likely to continue.
- Concerns leading to the board's decision included worries about pollution, along with the potential for an earthquake, given the landfill's location in a seismically active area that is also prone to flooding. Another factor was a January notice from the U.S. EPA which found the landfill was committing numerous violations under the Clean Air Act. County Commissioner Casey Kulla pointed to those findings, alongside arguments from local farmers opposed to the landfill, as reasons for his opposition.
- Jackie Lang, Waste Management's senior area manager for public affairs, called the vote "disappointing and difficult to understand," and said the site has met its legal obligations in full. Lang said the company will be able to make a decision about next steps once it has reviewed the board's full findings, which are expected to be adopted in the official record by the end of the month.
Waste Management has been engaged in litigation for years over the landfill, with the company pushing for expansion since at least 2008.
Proponents say it is a community-driven plan that has been thoroughly vetted, with a considerable amount of input from the public via open hearings and meetings. But critics have pushed back, maintaining the site poses a risk to agricultural production. A group of local advocacy organizations — including Stop the Dump Coalition, Friends of Yamhill County, the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, and a local farmer — have fought the expansion on those grounds, resulting in litigation that landed before the state's highest court in 2017.
In February 2019, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled against Waste Management and found the company could not offset the ramifications stemming from the expansion simply by compensating impacted neighbors. That court sent the issue back to the lower courts, saying the county would need to reconsider the expansion.
Commissioner Kulla said this month's vote marked the latest chapter in this dispute. Waste Management offered commissioners a "comprehensive litter control plan" addressing concerns raised by expansion opponents, Kulla said, and indicating how the company would seek to address litter migrating to neighboring farming areas. But critics were ultimately successful in convincing Kulla and another commissioner, Rick Olson, that their concerns were legitimate.
Moreover, Kulla said "the plan Waste Management proposed seemed unlikely to be carried out successfully," and noted EPA's findings as a factor in his decision. According to its Jan. 27 notice, the agency found four separate violations, including failures to conduct compliant surface emission monitoring; ensure monthly cover integrity; comply with good air pollution control practices; and meet monthly inspection requirements for a landfill gas well.
Commissioner Mary Starrett, who voted in favor of the expansion, said her decision did not mean the landfill should have been sited in its current location — which is vulnerable to flooding and other issues. Instead, Starrett said she was considering the expansion's impacts in isolation from other impacts associated with the current landfill operations.
Kulla said there do not appear to be broader concerns about where the area's waste may go depending on the expansion outcome. Portland's Metro regional government and the city of McMinnville — major municipal customers — phased out sending waste to Riverbend as of this year.
"All waste that had previously been transported to Riverbend has now shifted to other landfills," said Warren Johnson, a standards and compliance manager for Metro, naming other sites including Republic Services' Coffin Butte Landfill in Corvallis.
Waste Management may still appeal the board's decision once findings are entered into the county record, a process that typically takes two to three weeks.
"For legal purposes, findings of fact are important because they will help us understand the facts the County relied on and their thinking that led to the decision," said Lang of Waste Management. "I can’t speculate about any next steps beyond our review of the findings."
The company could also potentially submit a new application, keeping the process going indefinitely. Lang did not indicate how much capacity remains for the landfill, stating the amount of waste received at the site varies by day. Prior data from EPA's Landfill Methane Outreach Program estimated a 2035 closure date.