Rural counties depend on landfill business

Rural counties depend on landfill business

Neighboring farmers and vineyards were outraged. “Welcome to McDumpville,” screamed one website. The Willamette Valley Winegrowers Association declared the landfill would ruin the “view-shed,” “smell-shed” and reputation of local products. “No offense to those from Arlington, Oregon, but we don’t want our ‘food and wine haven’ to look and smell like your town,” one resident wrote in a letter to the editor.

Riverbend is especially unpopular because of the 42 inches of rain it gets each year, which makes the landfill smellier than its eastern counterparts and raises concerns about the fact that it’s in a floodplain. And some residents resent that what started out as a locally owned county dump now accepts waste from as far as Washington County, after being bought by a national waste company, Sanifill, that eventually merged with Waste Management.

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A “top pick” grabs one of the 32-ton rail containers filled with trash from Seattle or Kitsap County, Wash., to hand off to one of the trucks that will take it up to the Columbia Ridge Landfill.

Waste Management spent more than half a million dollars arguing its strongest case: “Yamhill County Needs Riverbend Landfill.” It advertised that garbage rates would go up in the county by as much as 255% if the landfill shut down. It commissioned an economic impact study from ECONorthwest, which estimated the long-term economic benefit of expanding the landfill would be 24 construction jobs, $740,000 in host fees and $5.3 million in local and regional spending every year for the 25 years it would take Riverbend to reach capacity again.

County residents voted in favor of the landfill expansion on a ballot initiative in November 2008. “When it’s a pocketbook issue you can almost always figure out how Oregon voters are going to vote,” says Leslie Lewis, chair of the county commission.

But the landfill’s fate was still uncertain. The county planning department voted 7-0 against it in January 2009 and the county ordered a third-party study on landfill alternatives. The report, released in October, concluded that sending trash to other landfills would be more expensive and there are currently no viable alternative technologies.

In December the three-member county commission approved the expansion 2-0, with one commissioner abstaining because her husband works for one of Riverbend’s major partners.

Maybe Waste Management won over Yamhill County by compromising on the proposed height of the addition; maybe it won by simply outspending its opponents more than 100 to 1. Or maybe the landfill expansion just made more sense than sending the trash to say, Arlington, which would cost money and jobs and put an end to the discount disposal costs that residents and businesses now enjoy.