Metro to purchase property in Cornelius for proposed transfer station
Metro took a major step Thursday, Feb. 4 toward building a new recycling and solid waste transfer station in Cornelius.
The Metro Council unanimously approved a resolution allowing the regional government to purchase a 12.5-acre industrial lot at North Fourth Avenue and Holladay Street, several blocks north of the Cornelius Walmart, where the station would be constructed.
In 2019, Metro created an agreement for the property, providing officials time to assess the suitability of the property for the project and engage with the community about concerns and potential benefits before purchasing it.
Metro will pay $3.1 million for the property using previously allocated money in its Solid Waste Reserve Fund. Metro officials said Thursday the price was current market value.
Metro identified a need to build new solid waste facilities to keep pace with the demands of Washington County's growing population when it adopted its 2030 Regional Waste Plan in early 2019.
According to Metro staff, the Cornelius site is the best option to build a state-of-the-art facility in an area where Washington County residents and business owners need to travel long distances to dispose of waste at Metro's existing transfer stations.
"I myself am very excited to support this resolution and to really advocate for the level of service that constituents on this end of the region deserve," said Juan Carlos González, who grew up in the Cornelius area and represents western Washington County on the Metro Council.
Metro, which was founded to manage waste for Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties, hasn't built a new transfer station since 1993, when it constructed its second facility along the Northwest Portland waterfront.
Metro's other transfer station is in Oregon City.
Waste Management's transfer station in Forest Grove primarily serves commercial customers, and costs for individuals can be four times higher than at Metro's facilities, Metro officials have said.
Metro officials say the proposed facility would help deliver on its climate change mitigation goals to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Efficient recycling and garbage management has been shown to reduce such emissions.
They add it could help reduce waste across the region overall by creating new ways for people to recycle materials.
Although Metro will purchase the property, officials say construction likely wouldn't begin for years.
Prior to moving forward with facility designs, the Metro Council must decide multiple key aspects of the project, including what waste services, exactly, would be provided, the costs of developing and operating the facility, and how to set usage rates.
Construction costs could be between $40 million and $100 million, according to Marissa Madrigal, Metro's chief operating officer.
Madrigal added it costs about $23 million per year to operate the Metro transfer station in Northwest Portland. Metro pays for those costs primarily through charges to commercial customers and a regional public services system fee, she said.
The decision to buy the land doesn't lock Metro into building the transfer station.
"Metro's real estate and legal staff believe that, even if no facility was to be developed on the property, landbanking this parcel is prudent," reads a Feb. 4 Metro staff report.
Building a transfer station that would bring benefits and few negative impacts was a key demand from officials in Cornelius.
Early on, they said they didn't want to see Cornelius chosen for the new facility simply because of its lower socioeconomic status compared to other places in the region.
Metro has since received letters of support for the project from Washington County, Hillsboro, Forest Grove and Cornelius.
"This new facility will bring new employment and an equitable level of service to communities that have to date been limited in their waste management options," said Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin in a letter of support.
Metro officials estimate at least 20 permanent jobs would be created if the transfer station is built.
Officials in Cornelius and the regional government have said the facility would bring recycling and waste equity to an area with a large Latino population. More than half of Cornelius residents identify as Hispanic or Latino.
Community members generally support the project, according to Metro officials.
Metro engaged in more than a year of community outreach with local businesses and residents, particularly those living close to the proposed site.
The community outreach included forming a 12-member community advisory group to field concerns and receive feedback on ideas for the facility's design.
Metro partnered with the Cornelius-based Latino cultural nonprofit Centro Cultural de Washington County to create an advisory group representative of the community.
The advisory group, which held several meetings throughout 2020, supports the project, according to a letter to Metro.
Metro also surveyed more than 800 people, 400 of whom were from Forest Grove, Cornelius and Hillsboro, about the project in both English and Spanish.
More than half of people who responded to the survey said they "strongly support" building a new transfer station at the Cornelius site.
About 10% of respondents said they either "somewhat oppose" or "strongly oppose" the project.
Neighboring businesses and residents said their primary concerns were with noise, odor, traffic and air quality impacts.
Jasmine Dolores Cruz, a member of the community advisory group who lives near the site, said in a November meeting that she supports the project, but she still had concerns about traffic that will be created as garbage trucks and other vehicles navigate the area's narrow roads.
"They talked about mitigating and changing North Fourth Avenue and connecting Holladay (Street) to Yew Street, and you know, I live right within a couple blocks of this place, so I'm really concerned about the amount of traffic," Dolores Cruz said. "That's the biggest concern."
Opposition to the project has largely come from private transfer station operators and cities far from the proposed site.
The Sherwood City Council submitted a letter asking that Metro conduct a feasibility study to assess the solid waste system's need for the facility prior to undertaking any design and construction.
Sherwood officials also had concerns about the proposed facility's costs and whether Sherwood residents and businesses would contribute to paying the costs while receiving little direct benefit.
Officials in Gresham had similar concerns about the benefit to residents, who, as part of the Metro government, may pay for the facility without being likely to use it.
Pride Disposal and Recycling, which operates a transfer station in Sherwood, opposes the proposed transfer station because of concern that it might reduce the allocation of "wet waste" to its facility, according to a Metro staff report. Wet waste is organic waste, such as food scraps.
Whether or not Metro's facility would accept wet waste has yet to be determined, although the regional government has suggested the Cornelius transfer station would make it easier to drop off "bulky items, food scraps, and recyclable or reusable materials."
Waste Management expressed concern about the proposed facility's potential to duplicate services already available at its Forest Grove transfer station, according to a letter to Metro. The company, however, supports the facility's potential to deliver services missing from the regional system.
Metro officials will continue to engage with community members about what the facility would look like.
They plan to model designs for the proposed transfer station off ones in the Seattle area.
Officials say it would be fully enclosed with modern odor-reduction technology. They add such transfer stations can be community gathering spaces, with waste education rooms and environmentally friendly features such as rain gardens.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.