Starting in 2020, garbage from greater Portland will not go to any landfills that are either new or that seek to expand, in compliance with an ordinance adopted by the Metro Council on May 25.
The rationale behind the ordinance, said its sponsor, Councilor Bob Stacey, is that with more than 100 years of capacity at existing landfills within 200 miles of Portland, there is no need for the area’s waste to contribute to the creation or expansion of any landfill.
The genesis of this ordinance can be traced back to 2014, when residents and landowners near the Riverbend Landfill outside McMinnville brought concerns to the Metro Council regarding a possible expansion of that landfill, which in recent years received a substantial portion of the greater Portland area’s garbage.
Waste Management, which owns Riverbend, had applied for a permit from Oregon Department of Environmental Quality to add another 10 to 15 years of capacity, and had sought approval from Yamhill County. The county’s subsequent approval was appealed by opponents, and that appeal is now awaiting a possible review by the Oregon Supreme Court.
In 2014, the Metro Council adopted a resolution directing Metro staff to figure out how to evaluate landfill capacity to help inform future decisions about where to send garbage. The work that followed included detailed analysis about the expected lifespans of area landfills, and that analysis showed that while Riverbend had about a year of life left, several others had decades of operation ahead. The conversation then became about whether Portland-area garbage could or should potentially trigger an expansion of one landfill when there is capacity elsewhere.
Views differ on Riverbend expansion
In the late 1980s, Metro entered into a contract with Waste Management to send 90 percent of greater Portland’s landfill-bound garbage to landfills owned by Waste Management. At that time, the Columbia Ridge Landfill near Arlington, about 150 miles east of Portland, provided a new option after several smaller landfills in the Portland area closed, culminating in the closure of St. Johns Landfill in 1991
This contract with Waste Management was extended a few times and now expires at the end of 2019. Since the initial contract was signed, Waste Management acquired Riverbend Landfill and made it available for some of the Portland area’s garbage. The only way Riverbend can continue to take Portland-area garbage is if it expands.
Opponents of the expansion of Riverbend voiced concerns to Metro councilors at a public hearing on the ordinance on May 18. Those concerns include its location on the banks of the South Yamhill River, in a floodplain and on soils that may be compromised in the event of a major earthquake. Also mentioned were the impacts of the landfill on nearby homes, farms and wineries, including odor, blowing garbage, and bird pests, as well as concerns about the leachate – water that runs through the garbage and collects in the landfill – that must be extracted and delivered by truck to nearby wastewater treatment plants.
“Yamhill County does not deserve to have this environmental nightmare in its midst,” said Ilsa Pearce, a Carlton resident and leader of the Stop the Dump Coalition.
McMinnville City Councilor Kevin Jeffries spoke on the city’s behalf in opposition to Riverbend’s expansion and in support of the Metro Council’s ordinance. Jeffries noted that the city council is considering its own resolution to divert McMinnville’s garbage away from the landfill. “We see Riverbend as a real threat to the economic vitality of McMinnville.”
Representatives from Waste Management did not agree with assertions made by Riverbend’s opponents. Mike Dewey, a lobbyist for Waste Management, also stressed that the expansion of Riverbend was not dependent upon whether garbage from the Portland area goes to the landfill, as opponents to the landfill claimed. Dewey urged the Council not to exclude Riverbend from consideration in its upcoming open procurement process, starting this summer, for a new landfill contract to take effect in January 2020, and believes that the Portland area needs to have a landfill in the western part of the state available to receive its garbage.
Ordinance splits Council 5-2
During their deliberations on the ordinance May 25, several Metro councilors expressed a desire to make better use of existing landfills rather than support their expansion. Other councilors expressed concerns about the impacts sending waste to other landfills may have on residential and commercial garbage service customers on the west side of the greater Portland area.
“When we first started looking at this, there weren’t a lot of options (for other landfills),” said Councilor Carlotta Collette. “Now there are. Riverbend is one of the worst places you could imagine siting a landfill. It wouldn’t happen today.”
“But it’s there. It’s an existing landfill,” said Councilor Craig Dirksen, who represents a Metro district that sends much of its garbage to Riverbend. “If we pass this ordinance and stop sending waste there, the landfill won’t go away.” And, he added, an unintended consequence of this ordinance could be that Riverbend landfill may be open longer if its permit for expansion is approved by DEQ, since less waste going there could mean more years of operation.
Dirksen also cited concerns about the potential increases in garbage rates paid by customers in his district if garbage must be sent farther distances for disposal in landfills east of the Cascades. “I can’t in good conscience vote for this ordinance,” he said. “I will be voting no.”
Council President Tom Hughes shared many of Dirksen’s concerns about the ordinance. “I don’t like this landfill. I think the issue of whether it poses a threat to the Yamhill or Willamette rivers is a question for DEQ,” Hughes said. “I feel uncomfortable telling the operator of a legal landfill, that will only expand if state allows, that we’re not going to send garbage to the most convenient place right now.”
“We don’t know if this decision today will create the benefit this community is looking for,” said Councilor Shirley Craddick. Still, concerns about the impacts of the landfill on the South Yamhill River and the Willamette River further downstream moved her to support the ordinance.
The Metro Council voted 5-2 to adopt the ordinance with Dirksen and Hughes voting no. The ordinance will not have an immediate impact but it does exclude landfills, including Riverbend, that are already seeking expansion from receiving Metro area waste starting in 2020.
In the meantime, Metro is beginning the process for obtaining a new landfill disposal contract, starting in 2020, for garbage transferred at Metro Central and Metro South transfer stations. A formal request for proposals from landfill operators will be issued this fall.