Rural counties depend on landfill business

| Print |  Email
Articles - February 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lewis acknowledges Waste Management’s economic impact and the multiplier effect it has in the county, but she says it was a small factor. She says the main issue was whether Riverbend could prove that it met county and state land use criteria.

“I think that we need reasonable solid waste alternatives in Yamhill County and we just voted that the reasonable alternative was to expand the existing landfill. There are no better alternatives at this time,” she says. But she looks forward to the day when Riverbend will close. “I want this to be the last time we expand the landfill,” she says.

Arlington-landfill-dumping-II_0328
A “tipper” inverts a container of garbage into the open face of the Columbia Ridge Landfill to be compacted and buried. Waste Management has four tippers at Columbia Ridge.

Opponents have appealed the county’s decision.

Mammoth waste companies may have gained the upper hand with local governments that bank on including landfill revenues in their budgets. But counties where waste is an important economic driver have other reasons to be concerned.

Arlington was the first large EPA-compliant landfill in the region. Today there are half a dozen comparably sized landfills in Oregon and Washington, including the Roosevelt Landfill across the river in Klickitat County. Competition from neighboring landfills can rob counties of host fees, which are usually pegged to waste volumes. Last year, Roosevelt scored a $9.9 million contract for household waste from Oahu, Hawaii, and it could potentially snatch any of Arlington’s big contracts — Seattle, Metro and Kitsap County, Wash. — which would mean a devastating loss of revenue for Gilliam County. Gilliam is currently embroiled in a fierce battle over tribal fishing rights that will determine whether or not there will be barge access at the Port of Arlington, an important factor in securing waste contracts.

Additonally, the total waste stream may be shrinking. The amount of trash Oregonians sent to landfills increased every year for a decade until 2008, when it dropped by 16%. The decrease was largely due to the recession, but some industry experts say that recycling enthusiasm and efforts to reduce packaging have reversed the trend of rising landfill waste for good. The Northwest has always been a leader in recycling and could start to see landfills lose importance, says Waste Management regional vice president Dean Kattler.

The rising recycling rate is part of what’s driving the waste industry’s current big trend: the green revolution. Waste Management now earns 49% of its revenue from “green services,” including recycling and waste and landfill gas energy projects. It’s hard to predict what effect this will have on Oregon’s dump towns — decreased landfill volumes may force counties to wean themselves off landfill host fees, but alternative waste-management technology could also create jobs — but there are already hints of big changes in Oregon’s dump economy. Two former landfill engineers in Boardman founded Finley Bioenergy, which started converting the methane from the Finley Buttes Landfill into electricity in 2007. It’s only 2.5 jobs at the moment, but the operation will expand as the landfill grows and produces more methane. Other kinds of composting and waste-to-energy projects could potentially bring new jobs.

IMG_1509
Workers building a new cell at Finley Buttes Landfill in Boardman lay down the high-tech plastic liner required by the EPA that prevents water from leaching through the landfill and seeping into the groundwater.

The biggest unknown is what the eventual environmental impact will be of burying so much waste. The EPA warns that landfill liners can fail unpredictably with time, and counties will be left with their caches of other people’s trash for a long, long time after the landfill is closed. Scientists estimate that it takes at least 500 years for a plastic bag to decompose and more than 1,000 years for Styrofoam.

With 20 years of hindsight, Laura Pryor and Dennis Gronquist say there isn’t much they’d do differently. The landfill may have actually made the local economy less diversified by providing higher-paying employment that drew workers away from farming. But Pryor and Gronquist say they would absolutely sign the agreement with Waste Management again.

“The impact that this has on the county,” Pryor says, pausing to search for a word with enough weight, “is extreme.”



 

More Articles

See How They Run

January-Powerbook 2015
Friday, December 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Studying ground-running birds, a group that ranks among nature's speediest and most agile bipedal runners, to build a faster robot.


Read more...

The short list: 5 hot coffee shops for entrepreneurs

Contributed Blogs
Friday, November 14, 2014

CupojoeBY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Oregon entrepreneurs reveal their favorite caffeine hangouts.


Read more...

Tackling the CEO-worker pay gap

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY OREGON BUSINESS STAFF

An SEC rule targets the disparity between executive and employee compensation, reigniting a long-standing debate about corporate social responsibility.


Read more...

The short list: Holiday habits of six Oregon CEOs

The Latest
Thursday, December 11, 2014
121214-xmaslist1BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

We ask business and nonprofit leaders how they survive the season.


Read more...

Streetfight

News
Sunday, December 07, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

On Friday, Uber switched on an app — and with one push of the button torpedoed Portland’s famed public process.


Read more...

Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


Read more...

Three problems with Obama's immigration order

News
Wednesday, November 26, 2014

BY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR112614-immigration-thumb

By now, anyone who knows about it has a position on President Obama’s executive order on immigration. The executive order is the outcome of failed attempts at getting a bill through the normal legislative process. Both Obama and his predecessor came close, but not close enough since the process broke down multiple times.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS