A bigger landfill is not the plan

[As I See It column, Corvallis Gazette-Times]

Some weeks ago, amid all the fliers promoting the jail bond, Benton County sent out messages concerning a community petition about the landfill.

I can’t link to the petition in this column, but you can find it online at the “VNEQS” community website. The petition is titled, “We need a plan, not a bigger landfill,” and in brief it tells the Benton County commissioners to oppose any expansion of Coffin Butte Landfill until Benton County has a waste management plan in place.

It’s a simple and commonsensical petition, but you’d never guess that from the messages the county sent out. The county seems to have lost its shin splint over this petition: The messages accuse the petitioners of “causing the commissioners to take action that is outside their scope of authority” and “jeopardizing the county’s ability to manage the decision-making process” and other such whomp-whomp.

Whoa, you’re probably saying, isn’t this a community petition? Can’t they just ignore it? Why all the drama? Well, who knows why the county does what it does (it doesn’t seem to know itself much of the time), but to me it’s pretty obvious why they’re mischaracterizing this petition:

  • Approval is forever. The petition speaks to this directly. If the commissioners approve an expansion, that decision can’t be undone. But if they oppose an expansion, they can approve one later, if the waste management plan shows that would be the best path forward for residents. The county’s objections are trying to hide this commonsense logic behind a smokescreen of legalese.
  • The county knows near zip about the real cost of the landfill. The county just finished a huge fact-finding jamboree about its waste management. The Trash Talk Workgroup consumed thousands of person-hours and its budget ballooned to four times its initial level. The Trash Talk Report runs over 1,000 pages and never once directly addresses the need for a proposed expansion, nor does it explore landfilling alternatives. This doesn’t look like a government in command of the facts; it looks like one performing a charade of gathering them. The petition speaks to this also, and the county doesn’t want (you) to hear that.
  • The county knows zip about the true future cost of, or alternatives to, landfilling. The county has promised to start another half-million-dollar fact-finding jamboree, to hire a consultant to prepare a comprehensive, future-looking waste management plan. Why commit irrevocably to an expansion right before you do your expert research on whether it’s the right thing to do?

In its messages, the county says it can’t delay a decision. The petition doesn’t seek a delay, it asks the commissioners to oppose any application for expansion because the county doesn’t know now if an expansion makes sense, environmentally or economically, for us Benton County residents.

In my experience, county residents want exactly what the new waste management plan promises to deliver: a well-thought-out path forward that focuses on future resilience and includes alternatives for decreasing and diverting materials from the waste stream — a plan that embraces Benton County’s values. Many of us hope the plan will also address the pollutants coming out of the landfill (methane, leachate).

The Planning Commission denied the last expansion application in part because of too many unanswered questions about adverse impacts; the new plan would finally get us some answers

But we won’t get any of this if Benton County chooses a bigger landfill instead; we’ll just get more of the same old garbage.

Ken Eklund


Ken Eklund is a futurist and artist in game design, and a community volunteer on the Benton County Solid Waste Advisory Council. He lives with his family in Corvallis.