Our Opinion: Cornelius has decision to make, and lots of time
It's early in the process, and we're not passing judgment yet. There will be a time for that. But as Cornelius considers a pitch by the regional government Metro to bring a solid waste transfer station to town, we're glad that there is a lengthy timetable before any decisions must be made.
It's easy to see the benefits for Cornelius. We've written on this page before in praise of city leaders' well-considered but aggressive efforts to put Cornelius on the map and give it a sense of place and vitality beyond just being the little town between Forest Grove and Hillsboro. A solid waste transfer station would be a boost to the economy of one of Washington County's poorest cities and would, in fact, make Cornelius a destination.
It's one way to bring business to town — and, after all, all that trash we generate has to go somewhere — but it's not exactly the kind of thing you'd put on a postcard.
The site that's under consideration looks like a pretty good location, though. Granted, as project planners do their due diligence to assess the site and weigh it against Metro's needs, that could change — but certainly, that area along North Fourth Avenue several blocks past the Walmart is historically underutilized. It's industrial land. There's not a lot around, and certainly no residential neighbors who would find their property values cratering and their decibel levels skyrocketing as a result of the transfer station moving in next door.
To improve matters further, Metro paints a downright rosy picture of how the transfer station would work. It's been many years since Metro opened a new solid waste transfer station in the region, and the technology has come a long way, planners say. They promise a facility where all waste would be stored inside and any odors that might make their way outside would be minimal. It would look, officials say, far more like a business park or office building than a traditional dump.
But the impacts of a transfer station go beyond where the facility is located, what it looks like and even what it smells like.
We mentioned earlier that part of the attractiveness of this transfer station would be that it would put Cornelius on the map and make it a destination. Of course, the destination would be that of garbage being hauled in from across the Westside to be stored and processed at the transfer station — and garbage then, having been transferred, being hauled back out.
If we think about where the proposed site of the facility is, we can imagine, in essence, six ways of getting there.
The facility would be in the industrial area toward the end of North Fourth Avenue. Dump trucks coming from the north would presumably head down to Cornelius from the North Plains area. If they were, for instance, hauling in trash collected in Bethany, they would get off Highway 26, head south on Northwest Glencoe Road, turn onto Northwest Zion Church Road, etc.
As they drove south into Cornelius on Northwest Cornelius-Schefflin Road, which turns into North 10th Avenue as it crosses Council Creek and into city limits, they could go one of two ways to get to the transfer station: drive down to North Adair Street and turn westbound before taking a right at the Walmart, or turn onto North Holladay Street just past Valley Agronomics and take a shorter route. Option 2 would have the trucks driving on a narrower city street rather than a state highway, but they would also bypass downtown Cornelius, and they would avoid residential areas as well.
The other routes aren't as neat.
Trucks coming from the south would have to navigate the hairpin turns of Southwest Tongue Lane, then head up past two elementary schools — Forest Hills Lutheran School and Echo Shaw Elementary School — and residential neighborhoods on Southwest Golf Course Road and South 10th Avenue, before reaching Adair Street and taking it to Fourth Avenue.
Alternatively, those trucks could bypass Tongue Lane, head all the way up Southwest Hillsboro Highway, and take the route that trucks coming from places like Aloha and Hillsboro will presumably take: drive westbound on Highway 8 until they reach Fourth Avenue. That route takes dump trucks heading to the transfer station through not just downtown Cornelius, but downtown Hillsboro as well.
For trucks coming from Forest Grove and points west, they could use one of two routes: drive eastbound on Highway 8 to Fourth Avenue, or turn onto Northwest Verboort Road from Highway 47 and follow the country road through tiny, unincorporated Verboort to Cornelius-Schefflin Road.
Some of these routes are more straightforward than others, but most of them have noisy, stinky dump trucks passing through downtown areas, residential neighborhoods or both. They will add a significant amount of wear and tear to the roads they drive, and in areas where there is significant foot traffic or bicycle use, they create a potential safety issue as well.
This isn't necessarily a mortal flaw in the plan. It could be that city and regional officials weigh all the pros and cons, and they conclude that the traffic impacts are manageable, odor and noise issues can be ameliorated, and on balance, this would be a good thing for Cornelius. It could be that residents have their concerns addressed through this lengthy public process that is planned, and this ends up being a feel-good project with broad support in the community that helps Cornelius continue to grow and assert itself among the major cities on Portland's Westside.
Then again, issues like this could sink the proposal. Other issues could be identified. Maybe the community will revolt, and public pressure will prompt city leaders to abandon the idea altogether. The relationship between Metro and Cornelius could break down for unrelated reasons, and Metro could start looking for a different partner. A charismatic salesman from out of town could convince the town to instead use its money and vacant land to build a monorail.
The point is, there's a lot that can happen during a long process to site a facility like this. That's a good thing. Planners, elected officials and members of the community should have ample opportunity to weigh these issues and many, many more. We hope to see a process moving forward that is not predetermined, but instead is open-minded, thorough and deeply considered.
There's already been a lot of work put into transforming Cornelius from grungy pass-through to burgeoning suburban city — and there's more work to do yet. Whatever Cornelius decides next will need the support of the community, and the most exacting amount of due diligence possible, to make sure Cornelius keeps moving in the right direction.
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