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Opponents may decide this week whether to appeal case to LUBA



McMINNVILLE — Waste Management’s drive to keep Riverbend Landfill open got a boost Thursday when the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners approved expansion of the controversial facility.FILE PHOTO ---  - Surprising decision -- Commissioner Allen Springer surprised the gallery when he voted against expansion of Riverbend Landfill.

On a 2-1 vote (Commissioner Allen Springer was the lone nay vote), the Board of Commissioners upheld approval of the expansion by the county planning commission in January, which was appealed soon after.

“We are grateful to the commissioners and county staff for ensuring an open and transparent process,” said Paul Burns, Waste Management director of operations for the Pacific Northwest. “Hundreds of people helped make the Riverbend plan better in three years of community meetings. As a result, the plan approved today provides strong benefits for Yamhill County as well as critical protections for the environment.”

However, the Board of Commissioners may not have the last word on this issue. As has been de rigueur for the past several years, the county’s decisions have been appealed to a higher body, in this case likely the state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).

Although taken off guard by Springer’s vote against the expansion after repeatedly praising Waste Management and their plans in previous meetings, the opposition wasn’t surprised by the commission’s approval.

“I think we were surprised by the way the vote split,” said Ilsa Perse, chairwoman of the Stop the Dump Coalition and on the board of Friends of Yamhill County. “We always hope that the commissioners will attend to the arguments that are legally justifiable and not say what was said today ... essentially that it is a ‘lousy location for a landfill, but since it’s already there …’”

Perse said the coalition will meet this week to weigh its options. “We will make a public statement about our position once the board meets,” she added.

Both groups are no stranger to the fight to stop expansion of the landfill. “Friends of Yamhill County has submitted in-depth and legally compelling arguments against landfill expansion since day one of the fight,” Perse said.

Testimony during the public hearing, which included a marathon session in early March that required moving the meeting to the McMinn­ville Civic Center to accommodate the crowd, could provide an argument for appeal should the groups decide to go that way.

“Should we appeal, our lawyer will determine the winning arguments,” Perse said. “That being said, (county planning director) Mike Brandt, in his staff report, gave the commissioners legal reasons to deny the application.”

Brandt spoke at length in presenting the staff report to the commission and characterized the proceedings as a “Groundhog Day issue” that keeps coming up. He reminded the board that the planning commission had placed 22 conditions on the application, including revised site maps, earthquake standards, replanting riparian vegetation, site readings and others.

Brandt, a longtime planning veteran in the county, also said the board was bound to make its determination on the legal criteria and the testimony submitted, not opponents’ arguments that fall under the purview of other state and federal jurisdictions.

“So the bottom line is we don’t do federal regulations, we do county regulations,” he said.

However, Brandt also gave the commission grounds for denying the application, citing state law that prohibits non-farm practices on farm land if there is a negative impact on farmers.

“We were very impressed by the planning department’s thorough report,” Perse said. “We are, of course, disappointed that two of the commissioners did not pay attention to the legal reasons to deny the application.”

At issue is Waste Management’s application to add 29 acres to its decades-old facility west of McMinnville. With approval, construction of Module 11 in the northwest corner of the landfill, between the existing facility and Highway 18, would begin in summer 2016 and allow for an additional 9.5 years of operation under current disposal rates. An enlarged vegetation buffer would be added between the landfill and the highway, the facility would be designed to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and an improved gas collection system would be installed to reduce odors from the landfill, company officials have said.

Deliberations were brief Thursday. Each commissioner weighed in, speaking to their decision.

“I assure you I have gone over every page of this …,” Commissioner Stan Primozich said as he held aloft one of four large binders full of information on the landfill expansion. “I want you to know that nothing about this issue has been taken lightly.”

Commissioner Mary Starrett reminded the crowd that the board was charged solely with determining whether the expansion would go forward.

“The task isn’t to determine whether this is a good site for a landfill — this is a lousy site for a landfill,” she said.

She remarked that the March 12 testimony of farmers who own land adjacent to the landfill had convinced her, initially, to vote against the expansion. However, she changed her mind when she came to the conclusion that Waste Management had met the criteria for expansion.

Springer, who at earlier meetings had fought off claims that his contact with Waste Management was inappropriate, said he had to “divorce myself from the pressures and perceived pressures” of the process, as well as the barbs directed at the commission. He again chided those who asked him to recuse himself from the decision and said the board had been handed the issue by previous commissions.

“We have a tough situation,” he said. “It’s kind of like getting hand-me-downs …”

Perse remained unconvinced they got it right.

“There are hundreds of pages of expert testimony that provide strong legal arguments to deny Waste Management’s application,” she said. “All that is needed is the political will to take the county in a new direction. We did not see that political will today.”

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