Texas-based company announces it will seek relief from the Land Use Board of Appeals

PMG FILE PHOTO - Waste Management announced recently that it will take its case to the Land Use Board of Appeals.

Waste Management will appeal the recent decision by the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners denying the Texas-based company's application to expand Riverbend Landfill in McMinnville.

"The decision to appeal was made by our area leadership team, working with our local district manager, who lives in McMinnville," Jackie Lang, Waste Management's senior area manager for strategic engagement and public affairs, said in an email interview.

The company's plea for relief will go before the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), the state agency that found fault with an earlier commission decision approving the expansion.

Lang said the company has "identified multiple issues that require review" and that Waste Management "will present the issues in writing in our appeal to LUBA," a step the company had yet to take as of Monday, Sept. 21.

In a 2-1 vote Aug. 6, Commissioners Casey Kulla and Rich Olson voted to deny the 29-acre expansion to the county's only landfill. Commissioner Mary Starrett voted in favor of the expansion.

"We expected a process focused on the specific issues in front of the board on remand, but the deliberation appeared to instead revisit issues that have already been resolved," Lang said soon after the commission's decision. "We were surprised at the decision and find it difficult to understand because we believe we have met the legal requirements in full."

The company's application, first filed in 2014, has traveled through a labyrinth of Oregon agencies, including the Court of Appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court and LUBA.

It was LUBA that remanded the expansion application back to the Board of Commissioners on two fronts, Ken Friday of the county planning department said during the commission's deliberations in August: Would expansion of the landfill have significant impacts on the surrounding individual farms cumulatively and would it have significant impacts on farm practices at Ramsey McPhillips' adjacent farm in particular?

Friday maintained that there was substantive record that showed the board properly examined the first LUBA contention. As to the second, he suggested that the Oregon Supreme Court found Riverbend must protect the impact from occurring in the first place rather than mitigating an existing impact.

In response, Riverbend did multiple analyses that produced a comprehensive litter control program that includes shutting down if winds reach a certain level and installing multiple levels of fencing, he said.

Friday added that based on the steps Riverbend has taken to mitigate the impacts on surrounding farms, he recommended approval of the application with the provisos that it implement the comprehensive litter control plan.

Lang said LUBA typically takes about six months to review an appeal, although "the exact timeline depends on several factors and will be clearer once we get deeper into that process."

Sid Friedman, former president of the Stop the Dump Coalition and a current board member, said the organization, in concert with Phillips, filed a motion last week to intervene with LUBA to help defend the county's denial of the landfill expansion.

"Waste Management couldn't care less about this county; the only thing that matters to this corporate giant is dollars and nothing else," he said. "The bill to clean up the toxic brew they have dumped by the Yamhill River will be huge and they'll pay hundreds of thousands to lawyers to delay these costs, in hopes that the rest of us will have to pick up the tab."

The company's ultimate goal in applying for the expansion years ago was to lengthen the facility's lifespan, he added, estimating that expansion would add 10 years to the life of the landfill.

"The remaining life at any landfill depends on the amount of waste accepted over time," Lang said. "That's the key variable. The amount of waste we receive at Riverbend varies each day."

Waste Management has seen the tonnage of waste delivered to the McMinnville facility drop over the past several years as a number of its larger customers, including the city of McMinnville and Metro, have taken their business elsewhere.

Following the commission's August decision, Waste Management's options were to scrap the expansion altogether, appeal the decision to LUBA or file an entirely new expansion application. The decision to approach LUBA once again was based on the findings of the commission supporting its decision, Lang said.

"For legal purposes, findings of fact are important because they (helped) us understand the facts the county relied on and their thinking that led to the decision," she said in August.

LUBA's decision on the appeal will not come before the complexion of the Board of Commissioners returns to its more conservative bent in January. Commissioner Rick Olson will leave the commission in December and will be replaced by Lindsay Berschauer, who won the seat in the May primary election and whose political views are more in line with Starrett's.

Still, Waste Management's decision to appeal to LUBA was not politically motivated, Lang insisted.

"Our decisions in Yamhill County over the last 30 years have been driven by Waste Management's commitment to safety, environmental protection and being the best neighbor and community partner we can be," she said. "This focus continues to drive our decisions about Riverbend."

Ilsa Perse, one of the coalition's longtime opponents to the landfill, mirrored Friedman's sentiments on the company's appeal to LUBA:

"Once again Waste Management is thumbing its nose at the county and the community. They are desperate to forestall having to pay the costs to close the dump and are now grasping at straws to avoid that expense," she said. "They will drag this on for as long as (possible and) show that they are poor managers of the existing dump. The EPA violations alone should disqualify them from being allowed to continue to operate, let alone expand. We will continue to oppose their attempts to grow the dump."

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