Land use — If approved by Yamhill board of commissioners, request would allow landfill to move ahead with expansion plans

The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners is gearing up to decide a request by Riverbend Landfill, which could have a significant impact on whether the large and controversial disposal site outside McMinnville can continue operating.

The landfill, located off Highway 18, is nearing the end of its permitted capacity — a deadline that was pushed back somewhat by the Department of Environment Quality’s ap­proval of a 1,700-foot-long berm earlier this year. Waste Man­age­ment Inc. — which owns the landfill — has plans to apply for a 37-acre expansion at Riverbend, but first, Yam­hill County commissioners must approve its current request to re-zone its current location from a mixture of public works safety and recreational commercial to exclusive farm use (EFU).

If either the zone change or the expansion (which would also have to be approved by the county and other agencies) is denied, then Riverbend would be forced to close within three to four years. If both are approved, officials expect the site to continue operations for 15 to 20, depending on usage.

The rezoning request is currently before the county planning commission, which is scheduled to give the Board of Com­missioners a non-binding recommendation on the matter Thursday. The commissioners themselves plan to take up the request at 10 a.m. Dec. 12 at McMinnville Civic Hall, 200 N.E. Second St.

“The zone change in itself will not constitute approval for future landfill space or green technology,” said Jackie Lang, spokeswoman for Waste Management and Riverbend. “A separate review processes will be required to move forward with the actual landfill and green technology. It will be a multiphase process, with numerous public involvement opportunities in the year ahead.”

The company’s plans for expansion will include 29 acres for landfill space and eight acres dedicated to the development of green technology, which Lang said reflects input from numerous Yamhill County residents and stakeholders. She said it was also due to this public involvement that Waste Management sharply reduced its expansion plans from the nearly 100 acres it proposed in 2008.

“Over the past two years, we’ve been talking with neighbors and the community about an expansion of no more than 60 acres, and we’ve been successful at reducing that even further to 37 acres,” Lang said. “That’s one aspect in which this application is very different than our earlier plan.”

Though Riverbend has long faced challenges to its continued operations — most notably in the form of a local coalition called Waste Not of Yamhill County/ Stop the Dump — the landfill also has no shortage of supporters, including for this current request.

During a public hearing before the plan­ning commission in November, a number of representatives of the local business community spoke in favor of the company’s plans, including Scott Wagener, general manager of the SP Fiber Tech­nologies mill in Newberg. Wag­ener said one of the reasons his facility — one of the largest employers in the city — has managed to stay afloat in an economic environment that has been particularly hard on paper mills is because of the affordable disposal rates it receives from the nearby Riverbend.

“If this zone change is rejected and the landfill closes, we will lose this important competitive advantage,” he said. “If Riverbend closes, we anticipate that our disposal costs would increase at least 100 percent because mill residuals would need to be transported out of the county to either Corvallis or eastern Oregon.”

Lang said the zone change is required under Oregon law in order for the expansion plans to move forward. She said the current avenue the company is following was recommended to Riverbend officials by the state’s Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) in 2008, when the landfill tried to expand under a different process.

“This is the process available to us given the complexities of Oregon land use law,” she said.

But Ramsey McPhillips, an opponent of the landfill expansion who lives next to Riverbend on his family’s farm, disagrees. He argues that state law does not permit an operating landfill to be rezoned EFU, unless the property is actually being farmed.

“The only way the landfill can be changed to EFU … is if they plan to farm it,” McPhillips said in an email to local media. “Oregon ag land (EFU) can become a dump but an existing landfill cannot be zoned a farm.”

However, Lang maintains that the landfill’s request is perfectly lawful. She said whether the property can be called agricultural land “really isn’t relevant to the discussion.”

“There is no ambiguity in the statutes: Landfills are allowed in (EFU) zones and have been allowed since 1979,” she said. “Mr. McPhillips doesn’t seem to be characterizing our request accurately.”

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