Landfill owner flouts the rules

Another reason to not allow any new expansion: Republic Services has repeatedly flouted the rules (such as conditions of approval in land use applications for past expansions) and gotten away with it without so much as a hand-slap from the County. This does not inspire confidence that they will comply with any conditions of approval in a new application for expansion. Why should they, if they can get away with non-compliance without consequence? Why should we trust their word in the future?

A History of Non-Compliance

Republic Services states on their website that “We work closely with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) to ensure we are meeting all federal, state and local landfill regulations.”

Over the years, the landfill owner/operator has applied for and obtained a great number of special permissions to continue its landfill operations in a location incompatible with heavy manufacturing activities. This is an area of farms, forests, homes on small acreages, and a significant wildlife area (EE Wilson).

At each step, the County has tried to mitigate the adverse impacts that the landfill would have on adjacent property uses by imposing rules (sometimes called “conditions of approval”). These rules are intended to constrain the landfill so that adjacent uses suffer no significant adverse impacts.

The problem is, many of these rules have not been complied with, and Benton County has taken no action to enforce their rules. The non-compliance list is long; here are but a few of the most egregious examples:

  1. Visual aesthetics. Rules about the visual appearance of the landfill have been in place since its first operating approval, in 1973. These rules include mitigation of “the scars that erode the face of Coffin Butte” and “screening with natural vegetation” to mitigate views of the landfill itself. More rules about appearance mitigation were imposed in 1983 and again in 2003. Almost 40 years later, the landfill is a tarp-covered eyesore, over 270 feet high, and it and the scars on Coffin Butte are visible from properties and roadways for miles around.
  2. Land returned to productive use. The first operating approval also ruled that the landfill would limit operation to a small area at a time, and then return each area to a productive use such as grazing. Instead, the landfill has become a mountain of plastic tarp, and its land forever unproductive.
  3. Leachate treatment. “Leachate” is water that has percolated into the landfill and become toxic with a long list of hazardous substances that it leaches out of the garbage. As part of its application to continue operating in 2003, the landfill pledged to operate “a state-of-the-art leachate treatment facility” that would ultimately release clean water into a wetland marsh on site. That rule was broken: the facility never worked and the landfill did not honor the agreement by building a replacement. Today, 36 million gallons of leachate are pumped out of the landfill every year and trucked to Corvallis or Salem, where the leachate passes through water treatment plants and into the Willamette River.
  4. Groundwater protection. The 1973 rules specified in brief that runoff should be efficiently collected and treated, not pollute waterways, and not pollute aquifers. Instead, as mentioned above, the landfill’s runoff is creating leachate which has created a huge, inefficient collection and treatment burden and ends up polluting a waterway, the Willamette River. The rule protecting groundwater has also been broken: pollutants have seeped into groundwater and blighted adjoining properties. The landfill purchases these properties, razes the homes or farms that were on them, and decommissions their wells.
  5. Exceedance of tonnage cap. The prior Franchise Agreement had a tonnage cap limit that has been exceeded by Republic Services with no enforcement action taken by Benton County.

The 2021 Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application LU-21-047 to expand the landfill (the one unanimously denied by the Planning Commission and then withdrawn by the applicant) was filled with additional new conditions just like these. The point is: they haven’t abided by rules in the past, so why should we believe them when they say they will agree to new conditions if we just let them expand?