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What you need to know

Republic Services wants to try to expand the landfill. Again.

This is NOT A LOCAL ISSUE, and NOT something the public gets to vote on— it is NOT decided in an election.

The landfill is NOT OWNED, OPERATED OR CONTROLLED by Benton County.

This dump will be an Environmental LIABILITY for generations to come:

It already impacts regional air quality and global climate change with massive leaks of methane and other toxic gases, and pollutes groundwater and surface water in the Willamette Valley with toxic leachate— the “garbage juice” created when rainwater percolates through everything ever buried there since the ‘40s including heavy metals, carcinogenic industrial solvents and PFAS “forever chemicals.”

In 2022 the EPA documented a massive number of methane leak violations with some measured methane levels higher than their equipment could register – “explosive levels” in some cases.

30 to 35 million gallons of leachate per year are trucked to Corvallis and Salem wastewater treatment plants where “treatment” primarily consists of dilution. Diluted leachate is dumped into the Willamette River.

Fractured basalt, not clay, underlies the dump. Water moves unpredictably through fractured basalt. Parts of the dump are unlined, and the areas that are lined may already be leaking (and will eventually leak), so there’s no assurance what direction escaped leachate will travel and whose drinking water and agricultural wells will be affected.

It will also be a long-term Financial LIABILITY.

Republic Services created a subsidiary — Valley Landfills, Inc (VLI) — to shield the parent company from liability. One environmental disaster and VLI will likely file for bankruptcy, leaving County taxpayers with the liability legacy. That could be a REALLY big liability: by Republic’s own estimates, the liability for its Bridgeton Landfill in Missouri (closed in 2004, the one with an underground fire that’s been burning since 2010) is at least $140 million dollars. By comparison, Coffin Butte, which is larger than Bridgeton, has an “Environmental Trust Fund” of only around $15 million. 

Federal “closure” and “post-closure” rules require landfill operators to provide a mere 30 years of financial assurance to cover ongoing maintenance costs after closure. Two unlined cells of this dump — closed and capped in the ‘70s — are still generating over 2 million gallons of leachate per year… fifty years later.

To make matters worse, these rules allow the operator to estimate the cost of that 30 years of maintenance… meaning they get to make up these “cost” numbers themselves and no one looks at them critically to ensure they are realistic. 

So, although Benton County does receive some small compensation for hosting the landfill (via franchise fees), the vast majority of the landfill’s profit goes to an Arizona-based corporation, while Benton County will have to deal with the environmental burden in perpetuity.

Fully one-third of all the garbage in Western Oregon comes to this dump. Less than 7% comes from Benton County; and some garbage comes from out of state. Haul trucks start lining up as early as 4:30 am and arrive all day, at the average rate of a new truck every ninety seconds, from as far away as Washington State. If Benton County recycled 100% of its waste, this would not slow the flow of trash to Coffin Butte.  

Un-planned, accidental, terrible location for a landfill. Wet garbage generates LOTS of leachate and methane so if you must have a landfill, it should be situated in a dry climate, away from people, and ideally on a thick clay bed (to prevent leachate leakage into groundwater). This landfill is none of these things. Originally the burn dump for Camp Adair during WWII (nicknamed “Swamp Adair”), it has somehow been allowed to exist despite consistent opposition. We’ve written a more detailed explanation of why Coffin Butte is a terrible location for a landfill.

Dump days” (when the stink is so bad it drives people indoors) are a regular occurrence. In addition to the sulfides which cause the smelly air, landfills produce some 30 different hazardous air pollutants including particulate matter, heavy metals and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Landfills are notorious for compromising the health of their surrounding communities; this landfill is no exception

“Many times each year, particularly in the winter months, we are affected at our house and while attending school in Adair Village by an oppressive stench, one that affects our daily living and activities. It causes headaches, eye irritation, and throat burning - which limits our outdoor activities. I’m concerned for the safety of the children at school.”

Republic Services is a bad actor

Their word is not to be trusted. They market themselves as “Devoted to Our Community” with a “Commitment to Sustainable Practices” and “Safety is a priority throughout our operation”… yet the facts are they have incurred over $160 million in fines for environmental-related offenses. Compare that to $29 million in fines for environmental-related offenses for Waste Management Inc – a significantly larger company in the garbage business.

The entire Coffin Butte Landfill is a super-emitter of greenhouse gases, yet Republic Services has been unwilling to take the actions necessary to eliminate these emissions.

They externalize costs on the environment and the surrounding community and ignore employment and safety offenses.

Robert Orton speaking to DSAC - Oct 25 2023

County residents have been told there’s nothing to worry about with this dump because there are regulators (Oregon DEQ, EPA, Oregon OSHA) that are responsible for ensuring compliance with the laws. The fact is that there is virtually no enforcement of environmental and worker safety regulations by these state and federal agencies. 

And there is NO oversight or enforcement by Benton County of its own land use requirements so it doesn’t matter how stringent “conditions of approval” are in a Conditional Use Permit. Republic Services can (and does) ignore them because there are effectively no consequences for not complying. THIS HAS GOT TO CHANGE.

Long ago Benton County gave up any role in controlling dump traffic impacts, limiting which Counties can use our dump, and preventing trash from accumulating along our highways. We have literally become the dumping ground for all of Western Oregon.

If ANY expansion is approved, per a clause in the 2020 Landfill Franchise Agreement the annual intake cap (a limit of 1.1 million tons/yr) will go away and Republic Services will be able to bring in as much garbage as it wants as fast as it can… the landfill will fill up even quicker and then they’ll want to expand again.

BE FOREWARNED: Republic Services is going to cry “rate increase!” if they don’t get an expansion – but their urgency for space is a self-made crisis caused by their ramped up efforts to bring more and more garbage to this facility. The annual amount of waste disposed has doubled since 2017 and is now bumping up against the intake “cap” of 1.1 million tons/year. Republic Services is required by franchise agreement to take Benton County’s waste through 2040, and any rate increases would have to be approved by the County. They cannot unilaterally raise rates.

In summary: landfills are the worst disposal option. Help us prevent the expansion of this one, with the goal of bringing it to a close when its currently-permitted space is filled. Better alternatives already exist in other countries; let’s work towards shifting mindsets away from landfilling in this one. In the meantime – there are other, better managed landfills in far better locations in Oregon… so this dump needn’t expand ever again.