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County seeks uses for hundreds of thousands of tons of ash stored in Woodburn transfer facility

COURTESY PHOTO: MARION COUNTY - Heavy machinery at the North Marion Recycling and Transfer Station in Woodburn works to remove ferrous and non-ferrous metals from the hundreds of thousands of tons of ash that were transported to that facility for storage and disposal between 1986 and 2014. Since July of 2014, new ash produced at Covanta Marion's Waste to Energy (WTE) Facility in Brooks has been shipped to Coffin Butte Landfill, where it's used as cover material.Marion County has issued a request for proposal (RFP), seeking potential solutions for hundreds of thousands of tons of ash residue that is being stored at the North Marion Recycling and Transfer Station in Woodburn.

The ash is a byproduct of the Waste to Energy (WTE) Facility in Brooks, which is owned and operated by Covanta Marion Inc. through an agreement with Marion County.

Disposal of the incinerator ash, which is considered a non-hazardous residue, is the county’s responsibility, and it is currently transported to Coffin Butte Landfill in Corvallis, where it’s used as cover material.

However, that arrangement has been in force only since July of 2014. Prior to that, the vast majority of the residue produced since the WTE plant began operating in 1986 has been transferred to the county’s disposal facility in Woodburn.

According to RFP documentation from the county, approximately 1.2 million tons of ash residue is stored among four separate cells at the transfer station.

The Covanta facility produces an additional 45,000 tons of new ash per year.

COURTESY PHOTO: MARION COUNTY - The county began screening at the Woodburn facility in 2011, after a pilot program the previous year showed it was operationally and economically feasible to recover the metal in the ash there.Jeff Bickford, environmental services division manager for Marion County, said the RFP is open-ended in regard to what material potential respondents may use.

There is a limited amount of “screened ash” at the Woodburn facility, which the county has screened to remove ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

The unscreened ash can also be used, and officials are open to a different arrangement with the new ash, since there are transport costs and disposal fees associated with shipping it to Coffin Butte.

The county began screening at the Woodburn facility in 2011, after a pilot program the previous year showed it was operationally and economically feasible to recover the metal in the ash there.

This latest RFP arose as a logical consequence from that program, Bickford explained.

“We just realized that what we had left was a very well-screened end product that wasn’t being used for anything,” he said of the screened ash.

What sort of use might someone have for hundreds of thousands of tons of incinerator ash, screened or not?

Last October, the county solicited a request for information (basically a less intensive precursor to an RFP) in an effort to answer that question.

Bickford admitted he wasn’t sure exactly what response the RFI might attract— if it attracted any interest at all. There’s not a lot of precedence for a situation like this; with the Covanta facility being the only one of its kind in the state, that makes Marion County the only Oregon county with this type of problem.

COURTESY PHOTO: MARION COUNTY - Large trash containers are filled with metal recovered from the ash stored at the transfer facility in Woodburn. The RFP for a solution to ash residue disposal in Marion County closes Oct. 22.But, to Bickford’s surprise, three companies submitted proposals in response to the RFI, conveying potential interest in the ash.

“All three proposals provided a general description of the proposed beneficial use, however, no detailed technical work plan, financial model or approved regulatory applications were provided as part of this effort,” a report by the county reads in part. “The receipt of these three proposals suggests that there is an interest in this project and there are potentially viable options for the beneficial use of (municipal solid waste) ash.”

Bickford said two of the proposals involved use of the aggregate as a component of a concrete-like product, while the other was to use it as fill material in construction projects (as an alternative to sand and gravel).

Bickford said it would be great if the RFP could ultimately bring some revenue back to the county, but the minimum goal would be to lower the costs of disposing of the ash.

“There’s an environmental aspect, but also an economic piece,” Bickford said. “If a proposal is going to be more expensive than what we’re doing now, we likely would not be interested.”

The RFP was issued at the end of August and closes Oct. 22. Bickford said that after that date, a committee will convene to review the proposals and see if any of them look promising.

Any successful proposal would have to not only garner the county commission’s approval, but also that of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

For more information, including copies of the RFP and related documentation, click here.

Tyler Francke covers all things Woodburn. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-765-1195.

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