The Japanese beetle eradication plan for Washington County has brought controversy from some Hillsboro residents.

For years, Washington County has had the dubious distinction of being home to the largest Japanese beetle infestation west of the Rocky Mountains. But shipping debris infested by the invasive insects to Hillsboro for disposal has stirred up some controversy recently.

Japanese beetles are a highly invasive species that eat a wide variety of both flowers and crops, threatening Oregon's crop and nursery industries, according to Clint Burfitt, manager of the Insect Pest Prevention & Management Program for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The foreign insects typically attack plants in groups, making their ability to cause damage much more severe.COURTESY PHOTO: MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE - Japanese beetles have become a major pest in parts of Washington County, and state officials are working hard to eradicate them — including, now, by sending infested debris to Hillsboro for containment.

The beetle was first discovered on the East Coast a century ago and has spread across the country to 24 states. The infestation had largely avoided Oregon, which regulates the import of plants from infested states to keep the population from spreading, but in 2016, ODA detected 369 Japanese beetles in areas of Cedar Mill and Bethany in Washington County, with additional insects discovered at Portland International Airport and Swan Island in Portland.

"This represented the largest total number of beetles detected in Oregon in a single field season," stated ODA's Japanese Beetle Eradication Response report, released in December. "The JB infestation in Cedar Mill and Bethany areas of Washington County may have started two to three years prior to detection."

After discovering the major issue at hand, ODA took action in formulating an aggressive plan to stop the spread of the beetle, setting up a large-scale eradication plan for the infestation in both the Cedar Mill and Bethany areas. Officials needed to set up a quarantine zone, and fast, then treat lands where the insects were seen.

According to the plan, eradication is expected to continue until at least 2021.

Last year, the ODA treated thousands of infected properties. All yard debris from the eradication area was quarantined and sent to Hillsboro for disposal.

'A Washington County issue'

According to state officials, approximately 2,000 tons of infected yard debris has been sent to Waste Management's Hillsboro Landfill, 3205 S.E. Minter Bridge Road, near Hillsboro High School.

"Yard debris placed into residential curbside bins was (taken) directly to the landfill," the report read.

Other yard debris collected by landscape crews is sent to a drop-off site along Cornelius Pass Road, where it is contained to prevent further contamination and then diverted into deep burial at the landfill. The site is near a landscaping supply company which Burfitt said has been used for a similar purpose for decades. That company wasn't going to be able to cater to the number of cars and personnel dropping off debris, Burfitt said. The company's composting methods also didn't reach high enough temperatures to consistently kill Japanese beetles.

Instead, officials are using Northwest Landscape Services next door, at 1800 N.W. Cornelius Pass Road. The site has been operating successfully for nearly a year, Burfitt said.

"We found a spot that happened to be right next to where most landscapers were depositing their stuff anyway," Burfitt said. "We were like, 'This is perfect,' ... and it was en route to where we needed to take it to Hillsboro Landfill anyway."

Burfitt expects to use the site until 2020. However, he said, the situation has brought some unanticipated controversy.

Last month, the DEQ extended the permit for the ODA to continue using this facility to collect contaminated material from landscapers, said Laura Gleim, regional public affairs specialist with DEQ.

Hillsboro resident Gary Kirby, an opponent of the Hillsboro site's placement, said residents weren't given enough time to comment about the project.

A public hearing in Hillsboro to renew the permit for the eradication drop-off site was held only one day before all public comments were due, Kirby said. By that point, he said, it seemed like a "done deal."

"By the time we got there, they were all in the defense mode," Kirby said. "The site selection process was not public. (They said) 'we need all your responses by tomorrow.' That's not a public hearing."

Opponents of the site have said choosing a Hillsboro location is an attempt to pass the issue — which has been contained to Cedar Mill and Bethany — onto another community, something Burfitt disputes.

"This isn't about unincorporated Washington County or Hillsboro," Burfitt said. "This is a Washington County issue."

'Very short period of time'

Burfitt said those working on the project communicated with as many people affected by the issue as possible, but they concentrated on the quarantine zone.

"One thing that we could've done better would've been to do that same kind of outreach ahead of this containment site in the Hillsboro area," Burfitt said.

The state was working under an extremely tight window to take action before the beetle infestation grew further out of control, Burfitt said. Crews had little more than a month to find a location in Washington County for quarantined debris to be dropped off.

"We had a very short period of time to stand up an eradication project that incorporated the treatment of over 2,000 residences, and stand up containment, and deploy our surveillance networks, basically within the lifespan of a beetle," Burfitt said.

Because other landscaping companies in the area serve as drop-off sites for local landscapers, Burfitt said officials didn't expect the Hillsboro drop-off site to be controversial.

"The existing area is being used for the same purpose already," he said.

Burfitt said the focus of the issue should be much more on how it will affect local farmers and nurseries, and not on the location of the transfer site.

"It's a community-based project," he said. "Washington County is the area that is going to benefit the greatest from us being able to do the eradication. This is about Oregon, the Willamette Valley and the Pacific Northwest's quality of life, and our ability to grow the plants that we use for food and for commerce and the entire region."

By Olivia Singer
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Follow Olivia at @oliviasingerr
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