New Riverbend application hits snag
By HANNAH HOFFMAN
Of the News-Register
Even if the county enacts a new zoning ordinance specifically authorizing landfills in farm zones, Riverbend Landfill's new expansion application will probably still require an exception to one element of Goal Three - a provision barring landfills on high-value farmland.
Ironically, taking a Goal Three exception was what led the state Land Use Board of Appeals to reverse the county's expansion approval in the first place. LUBA said the county should amend its zoning ordinance instead.
However, because the expansion targets what is virtually certain to qualify as high-value farmland, the county doesn't see any way around including an exception element once again. The only saving grace is that it would be much narrower in scope.
Jackie Lang, who speaks for Waste Management, Riverbend's Houston-based parent company, said the development shouldn't have any material effect.
She said, "This doesn't change our approach at all. We are pursuing this process because LUBA told us to do so."
However, Susan Watkins, president of the opposition group Waste Not, said incorporating an exceptions element into any new application by Riverbend or Waste Management for landfill expansion approval would, presumably, build more delay into the process. And she suggested that could create a time crunch for an operation expected to run out of room on its current site by 2014, less than four years away.
She said one constructive response would be to limit the landfill intake in the interim, giving everyone more time to work on solutions.
"They control how much waste they are taking in," Watkins said. "They can sit down at any time to limit the waste flow and keep the landfill open longer. That would allow time for the community to develop alternatives - a different way going forward."
LUBA issued its reversal July 7. It said the county and company had erred in taking an exception to state's farmland preservation goal in its entirety, since the goal specifically allows landfills on farmland under certain conditions.
In addition to submitting a new application, Riverbend plans to appeal the LUBA reversal to the Oregon Court of Appeals. Besides amending its zoning ordinance, the county is considering filing an appeal of its own or joining in Riverbend's appeal.
The two commissioners with a say in the matter, Leslie Lewis and Kathy George, told county counsel at the meeting last week that they supported an appeal of the LUBA decision. The counsel's office assumed that to mean the county would be joining Riverbend in a joint appeal, but George said Tuesday that she and Lewis wanted to consider the matter further.
She termed their initial response a hasty reaction to a frustrating decision, made at a point when it still wasn't clear what approach Waste Management would be taking. She said they had since decided they needed to explore the potential ramifications before making a hard and fast commitment.
Commissioner Mary Stern has recused herself throughout the process because her husband has long made his living in the waste disposal industry and currently works for Waste Management.
The Riverbend application went through the exceptions process because as it stands now, the county zoning ordinance forbids landfills on any farmland, regardless of value.
During last week's business meeting, Lewis and George authorized the staff to draft an amendment incorporating state language on the subject into the county ordinance. However, a complication has arisen.
One element of Goal Three is an Oregon Administrative Rule forbidding landfills on high value farmland. And County Planner Ken Friday included it in the draft amendment he submitted Monday to the state Department of Land Conservation and Development to meet a hearing deadline.
Planning Director Mike Brandt said the county had no choice but to include that language.
He said that would force Riverbend to either argue the acreage targeted for the expansion doesn't qualify as high value or pursue an exception on that point. He said he would recommend the latter, saying that would be a legally sounder course in his view.
The commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on the new zoning ordinance for 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 2, in Room 32 of the county courthouse. The state requires 45 days notice, which dictated the time of Monday's filing.
In addition to incorporating the state Goal Three language on the siting of landfills in farm zones, the county also included language to permit the siting of biofuel processing facilities in farm zones.