We owe it to them to draw the line

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

As a member of Subcommittee E (“Community Education”) of the “Benton County Talks Trash” process that took place over the past year, I learned a great amount regarding Coffin Butte Landfill’s history and possibilities.

As a person who drives past the landfill multiple times per week and an avid user of the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area, I have been observing developments of the facility for 25 years. Based on these experiences, I would like to clarify three things regarding the specter of expanding the landfill to the south of Coffin Butte Road.

First, no careful neutral analysis would have chosen this place for such a massive landfill. Coffin Butte Landfill began in the 1940s, when Benton County sought to divert people from privately dumping their refuse in the woods and rivers, as was practiced in the early 1900s.

There was no vision that this would be a massive industrial complex that receives over 88% of its nearly 1.1 million tons of refuse from outside the county.

The Benton County Trash Talks history notes that even when it was designated as one of several regional landfills in 1974, Coffin Butte was anticipated to close before 2000.

For contrast, Republic Services notes that its Roosevelt Landfill in Washington was specifically chosen for the low local population, relatively small or distant aquifers, and precipitation of 6 to 9 inches per year.

Second, Coffin Butte Landfill is already scheduled to expand to the west, where a quarry operates right now. The southward expansion is necessary only because the amount of waste going into the facility has nearly doubled in recent years, with nearly all of the increase coming from beyond Benton County, and much from beyond the mid-valley.

According to the Benton County Trash Talks final document, the amount deposited at Coffin Butte has increased from 552,978.53 tons in 2015 to 1,046,066.96 tons in 2021.

I recommend you go to E.E. Wilson sometime during the work week and observe the magnitude of the operation and the number of trucks coming from all over Western Oregon droning up the hill. I am not sure what is in each load, but last Friday I happened to watch a truck at the top of the heap unloading, surrounded by red dust or smoke.

Third, county officials make it sound as though Benton County residents may just have to accept the southward expansion because of previous commitments. This is not true. If Benton County officials all do their best, the expansion can be stopped.

The expansion does not fit the county’s existing policy goals, nor is it in sync with the environmental and sustainability goals of many residents; it would significantly affect the livability of surrounding areas.

We should all expect or demand that Benton County officials oppose any southward expansion, and do whatever it takes to make it so. Even if you disagree with this, it seems only reasonable for Benton County to have an approved long-term solid waste policy in place before we allow Republic Services to double in size by expanding to the east side of the landfill.

Whatever goes into that facility stays there forever, unless it leaches into our aquifers, is pumped out to be deposited in local sewage facilities or escapes as greenhouse gases (some of which does generate energy, but according to the BCTT, gas capture is about 57%).

I do not know if my descendants will live in Benton County, but someone’s will, and we all owe it to them to draw the line now.

Mark Henkels

Mark Henkels is a longtime resident of the Lewisburg area. He has taught public policy and administration at Western Oregon University since 1988, with a specialization in Oregon politics and government.