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Riverbend opponents appeal case to the state's highest court

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Stop the Dump Coalition and others will ask the Oregon Supreme Court to hear the controversial case

The consortium of groups that has opposed expansion of Riverbend Landfill for years has taken the ultimate step, at least at the state level, in stopping the towering pile of garbage on Highway 18 west of McMinnville from growing any larger: it's filed to plead the case before the Oregon Supreme Court.

Officials representing Yamhill County, which has been identified as a co-respondent in appeals filed from the county level to, most recently, the Court of Appeals, were not surprised by last week's announcement.GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Waste Management, the Texas-based company that owns Riverbend Landfill west of McMinnville, may be called on to defend its plan to expand the facility in the Oregon Supreme Court after opponents of the project filed an appeal last week.

"I can say that we expected the appeal, because it fits into the overall strategy of the opponents — to stop the landfill through endless legal proceedings," said Todd Sadlo, senior assistant county counsel.

The opposition's most recent legal maneuver is unique in that it questions the Court of Appeals' decision in March that held up an earlier ruling by the Land Use Board of Appeals in favor of the opposition. LUBA remanded to the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners' their approval of the expansion, finding for the appellants on a single assignment of error: that the county hadn't sufficiently determined if expanding the landfill would have a significant cumulative impact on the farms that lie near the facility.

The appellants in the case — made up of the Stop the Dump Coalition, farmer Ramsey McPhillips, Willamette Valley Wine Growers Association and Friends of Yamhill County – said the Court of Appeals decision didn't go far enough.

"The Court of Appeals decision lowers the bar on permitting of non-farm uses on (exclusive farm use) land," a statement from the coalition said last week. "The court appears to be interpreting the statutory language to mean that a conditional use is not permitted on EFU land only if the use "… significantly decreases the supply of agricultural land, the profitability of the farm or the provision of food.

"This novel and, we feel, incorrect interpretation of ORS 215.296, has serious and detrimental implications for the preservation of Oregon's agricultural future. The Court of Appeals appears to be saying that unless a farmer goes out of business due to the burden of farming in the shadow of Riverbend Landfill, the largest Oregon dump west of the Cascades, this nonfarm activity should be permitted."

Sadlo opined that the coalition's petition "overstates the importance of the ruling or its possible broader legal impact, but we shall see. The applicant (Waste Management) and the county went to great lengths in this case to condition and limit the project, to protect surrounding farm uses."

If the Court of Appeals' decision is allowed to stand, the coalition argued, Waste Management could "continue to make it almost impossible for neighboring farms to use accepted farm practices to make a living."

"The preservation of farmland is the bedrock of Oregon land use laws. If the Court of Appeals' decision is allowed to stand, many other nonfarm uses will be allowed to locate on and destroy Oregon's high-value farmland."

Unlike the lower courts, the Oregon Supreme Court can choose which cases it will hear and it's likely, Sadlo said, that it would choose not to hear the appellants' case. If the court declines, he said, the case will return to the Board of Commissioners under the remand from the Court of Appeals.

The crux of the issue is Waste Management's application to the county and other jurisdictions to enlarge the landfill by 29 acres in order to stave off closure of the facility, which is the primary repository for trash for not only the county but much of the Portland metropolitan area. At current levels the landfill will reach capacity this summer.