1979: Local family Ezra & Fred Koch propose a public landfill on a turkey farm along the South Yamhill River. The Kochs promise the dump will never be higher than nine feet above road leveland to return the land to farming. Yamhill County changes the farm zoning to PWS (Public Works Safety) and approves the dump.
1982: 200,000 tons of unsorted garbage dumped at Riverbend in the dump's first year.
1992: The Kochs sell Riverbend to Sanifill, Inc., a big Texas-based corporation. Yamhill County voters approve a ballot measure to prohibit the dump from accepting garbage generated outside Yamhill County; the courts toss the limitation out.
1993: The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality licenses Riverbend as a regional landfill and allows the dump to fill the entire PWS zone up to 135 feet above road level. Despite public protests, Yamhill County Commissioners agree.
1994: Yamhill County approves a 20-year Solid Waste Disposal License Agreement with Sanifill and Riverbend, which is expected to reach capacity and close by October 1, 2014.
1995: 300,000 tons of unsorted garbage dumped in one year on the banks of the South Yamhill River.
1997: 400,000 tons of unsorted garbage dumped in one year on the banks of the South Yamhill River.
1998: Waste Management, Inc., soon to be the world's largest waste handling company, buys the dump.
2002: 500,000 tons of unsorted garbage dumped in one year on the banks of the South Yamhill River.
2008: Waste Management announces plans to quadruple the size of the dump (twice as wide, twice as high), destroying 90 more acres of high-value farmland. The County Planning Commission rejects expansion 7-0, but the County Board of Commissioners ignores the Planning Commission and approves the expansion 2-0. In a bow to community pressure, the height is "limited" to 135 feet above road level.
2008: 600,000 tons of unsorted garbage dumped in one year on the banks of the South Yamhill River.
2009: The Stop the Dump Coalition (Waste Not of Yamhill County and 14 Partners) appeal the County's expansion decision to LUBA (the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals) -- and win.
2009: The South Yamhill River floods.
2011: Asbestos-containing demolition materials are dumped at the landfill -- twice. Riverbend is not authorized to accept asbestos-containing waste.
2011: Ignoring its Planning Commission yet again, the County Board of Commissioners approves a new zoning ordinance that could allow the dump to expand onto adjacent farmland as far as Sheridan, Oregon, 13 miles away. The Stop the Dump Coalition appeals; this time we lose.
2012: Waste Management proposes a 40-foot high wall around the dump. The Stop the Dump Coalition and community activists oppose the wall on the grounds that it will fail in the coming Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. In fact, the entire landfill is likely to collapse, allowing toxic leachate and gas to foul ground water and the South Yamhill River.
2012: The South Yamhill River floods. Twice.
2013: The state Department of Environmental Quality rejects the arguments of the Coalition's engineering expert that the wall, a mechanically-stabilized earthen berm, is not stable. DEQ approves the wall, which will allow the dump to collect an additional 2,000,000 tons of garbage and remain open through 2016.
2013: Over 600 individuals and businesses sign a newspaper ad opposing Riverbend expansion.
2013: For the third time the Planning Commission rejects the landfill's attempts to expand, this time when Waste Management asks the Commission to rezone the landfill to "Exclusive Farm Use." Under the 2011 zoning change, landfills in EFU zones can expand onto adjacent EFU land -- and Riverbend owns 500 acres of EFU land!
2014: County Commissioners once again overturn the Planning Commission and approve rezoning the dump to Exclusive Farm Use. Yes, to farmland! Even Waste Management concedes a massive dump cannot actually be farmed. Turns out the County allows only dumps that are legally located on farmland to expand, so Riverbend has to become a farm before it can become an even bigger dump. Waste Management declares that it will ask for approval of an 87-acre expansion.
2014: The Stop the Dump Coalition joins with the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, land-use watchdog Friends of Yamhill County, and landfill neighbor McPhillips Farms, Inc., to file suit to stop the dump. Due to an extremely unfortunate clerical error by the attorneys, LUBA dismisses the appeal.
2014:11,500,000 tons and counting of unsorted garbage dumped over 32 years on the banks of the South Yamhill River.Enough!
2015: The County approves a 79-acre expansion: 29 acres of new dump -- only 50' from the highway -- plus 25 acres for operations and 25 acres for an unspecified "green" technology. The Stop the Dump Coalition and allies Willamette Valley Wineries Association, Friends of Yamhill County, and McPhillips Farms appeal to LUBA, which remands the case to the County to correct deficiencies.
2016: After a new hearing, the County adds several new conditions intended to mitigate the adverse effects of the expansion, including some conditions that require the participation of area farmers; Stop the Dump and allies appeal. Relying on the new conditions, LUBA upholds the approval, but tells the County to reconsider "cumulative impacts." Both sides appeal to the state Court of Appeals, and then Stop the Dump et alappeal that decision to the Oregon Supreme Court!
In a different matter, Riverbend obtains a LUCS (Land use Compatibility Statement) from the County enabling the dump to "regrade," ie, to add nearly 500,000 tons of waste to old, unlined cells. Stop the Dump and allies challenge the LUCS, asserting that this "vertical expansion" should be considered under the same rules as the lateral expansion, that is, impacts to area farms should be evaluated. The trial court rules that the LUCS was issued properly, under rules in place before the dump was rezoned; Stop the Dump appeals.
2016: County residents finally file enough odor complaints that DEQ can no longer ignore us. The state's Odor Nuisance Strategy is triggered, meaning DEQ will conduct a year-long study to see how bad the odor from Riverbend Landfill really is.
2018: Many months after the year-long odor study, DEQ finally releases some data: Guess what, the dump stinks! The formal procedures of the state Odor Nuisance Strategy are not triggered, however.
2019: In the 79-acre expansion case, the Supreme Court throws out conditions requiring farmers to participate in mitigation actions, ruling that "... the legislature did not intend to have local governments force farmers to engage in a negotiation with a nonfarm use to obtain payment for the impacts to their operation" and "[A] test for conditions that permits a payment to the farmer and approval of the nonfarm use,...contravenes the legislature's long-term policy of preserving agricultural land." The Court returns the case to LUBA, which holds that, without the rejected conditions, at least one farm suffers a substantial adverse impact. Riverbend's appeal of LUBA's decision is denied by the state Court of Appeals.
2020: The County, with new Commissioners, holds a new hearing on Riverbend's expansion request. This time, the County finds that Riverbend has not succeeded in proving that area farmers will not be adversely impacted by expansion; Riverbend's application is denied, and its subsequent appeals to LUBA and the Court of Appeals are also denied. NO EXPANSION!
2020: However, the Court of Appeals does uphold the County's approval of Riverbend's "vertical expansion" ("regrading"), bringing the total unsorted waste that Riverbend can pile on the banks of the South Yamhill River to 12,735,200 cubic yards!
2020: In January, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues a Notice of Violation (NOV) to Riverbend, accusing the landfill of exceeding permitted legal emission limits for pollutants like methane for at least the past four years. Riverbend disputes that it has violated its permit but cannot dispute that methane has been leaking from the dump. The NOV results in a huge fine, and we finally find out why the state's Odor Nuisance Strategy was never implemented: the EPA took over!
2021: Riverbend abruptly closes its doors to community and commercial haulers (other than Waste Management haulers). At the same time, it persuades the County to amend its license agreement from year-to-year to a flat 15-years and to reduce the annual license fee from $240,000 to $50,000. Stop the Dump and others ask DEQ to intervene.
2022: DEQ finally takes action, asking Riverbend to apply for a closure permit. Although Stop the Dump and many others object to the loose terms of the proposed closure permit, the permit is approved as written in August. Riverbend now has 8 years to close -- until August 31, 2030 -- but can still ask to expand during that time.
Beyond 2022: We can’t foresee the future. What we know is that, over time, the dump walls and cells will break down, if a magnitude 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Earthquake doesn't knock them down first. The toxic concentrate of chemicals that will be released poses a serious threat to the health and well-being of residents and the environment, not just here in Yamhill County, but downstream as well. In the meantime, County businesses and residents are faced with at least 8 and as many as 15 more years of trucks, noise, litter, stink, E. coli, birds and vermin, lights, dust and mud. Close Riverbend Landfill now!
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Riverbend Landfill December 2009, set in scenic farm country.
Photos provided by
Leonard Rydell Photographer & Robert Delahanty Photographer