A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Coffin Butte expansion: Our trash problem

Written October 20th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

That little blue trash truck halfway up the hill gives you an idea of the size of the Coffin Butte landfill.

We throw away too much stuff.  That’s because we buy way too much stuff we can’t or won’t reuse. And that is pretty much the story of the Coffin Butte Landfill, which now hopes to win Benton County’s approval for an expansion that would result in a tower of trash even higher than what we see now.

Until the county’s solid waste advisory committee endorsed the expansion Tuesday night and the local paper published a story, the expansion got little public attention. A reader who lives in northern Benton County called my attention to it over the weekend. The county planning commission will hold a virtual online public hearing at 7 on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Valley Landfills, which owns the property, and Republic Services, which operates it, are asking for a conditional use permit to expand the landfill to the south, which would close and cover Coffin Butte Road west of Highway 99W. Their plans show that the new pile of compacted refuse on that side would eventually be taller than the mountain you see north of the road, which itself is planned to grow some more.

A new service road would be built on the south side of the expansion area, but it would not be public.

People living on the outskirts of North Albany, in the Palestine area, can see the landfill across the valley to the west. And now and then, on damp mornings when fog hangs in the air, they can smell it. Presumably that’s the gas that escapes the elaborate system the landfill has for catching methane and burning it for electricity, enough to power 4,000 houses.

The operators say the landfill will fill up the available air space in the current “cell” in about four years. Then it has about 15 years in a cell planned for the quarry on the side of the butte. But they say four years is not enough time to build the quarry cell, and besides, they would like to keep mining the aggregate, which is used on mid-valley building sites, until it’s gone. Hence the proposal for the new cell, which would be filled up in 12 years.

All together, with the proposed expansion now and then the quarry site later, the landfill could continue to accept waste for 30 years.

It could be longer if the waste came only from Benton, Linn and Polk counties. But last year, for example, of the 863,209 tons of refuse dumped at Coffin Butte, according to its annual report, less than 300,000 tons came from the three local counties. The largest amount  from any county, more than 180,000 tons, came from Marion County. Smaller amounts came from Tillamook, Yamhill, Lincoln, Washington, Clackamas and even Columbia County.

Tiny amounts of specialty waste, such as asbestos, were trucked down here from Clark and Cowlitz counties in Washington.

The  real problem, though, is that there’s too much trash, regardless of where it comes from. Even if the expansion is approved, what happens when Coffin Butte is full? We have less than a generation to figure that out. Thirty years can go by in a flash. (hh)

Coffin Buttte Road, on the left, would be closed anc covered by trash.


Soap Creek Road would end at this intersection with Coffin Butte Road, on the right. The dump is on the left.








10 responses to “Coffin Butte expansion: Our trash problem”

  1. Katherine says:

    It’s so nice to dump your garbage into your bin every week and it just goes away. There have been so many arguments here and elsewhere regarding the the rising cost of garbage rates and the uselessness of recycling. If we don’t have to see it or smell it it isn’t our problem. I and my extended family have always minimized what we buy, use and
    throw away. It takes some effort and yes sacrifice to reduce waste.
    I’m not sure as a society we have the collective will to do it. It doesn’t appear that a lot of folks think about the greater good as a community. It’s more about how it affects me personally. I have a feeling this mountain of waste is just going to grow and spread.

  2. Francois DeLacroix says:

    Rather than criticizing American’s incessant drive to collect more and then, to throw out even more, area residents might consider embracing the American penchant for excess consumption.

    Benton County residents should bear-hug the trash palisade which is slowly consuming the land. It might even make sense to sell the Coffin Butte facility beyond state borders.

    Other communities are looking for suitable alternatives to dumping on their own land. Corvallis and Coffin Butte operators could contract with out-state trash haulers, allowing garbage from all contiguous regions to be dumped in the Benton County facility. With more and more trash coming from further and further away, Coffin Butte would soon become a Garbage Mecca, or perhaps a Trash Vatican City (don’t want to offend our Muslim brothers and sisters). In short order, the Coffin Butte Mountain would achieve notoriety, expanding opportunities for marketing the massive rubbish pile as a “Destination Attraction.”

    The point being, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Don’t view Coffin Butte as a problem. Rather, it should be viewed as a solution for the malaise that has overtaken the Linn-Benton area.

  3. thomas earl cordier says:

    Republic services to me none of the materials from Albany go to the permitted burn facility in Salem. Why not. Saves landfill space. Bureaucratic barriers???
    Been asking that ? for years–never an answer that makes sense.

  4. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    “We throw away too much stuff. That’s because we buy way too much stuff we can’t or won’t reuse.”

    What is the male name for a “Karen”? A “Hasso”?

    You know the type, they demand everyone exist according to their standards.

    For those feeling oppressed by my use of a binary gender construct, delete “Karen” & “Hasso” and insert “Mx”.

  5. Nancy Whitecomb says:

    The Solid Waste Advisory Council, none of whom lives near the dump, cheerfully blamed Soap Creek residents for being NIMBYs because we think that having 1/3 of the waste generated in Oregon going into our literal back yard is maybe something that should have an independent consultant study (as Marion County, among others, has done) before we agree to a 270’ tall mountain of trash covering over a public road, Coffin Butte.

    Coffin Butte is public property, taxpayers have been paying to maintain this road for 80 years, and it is the most reliable route out of the valley for the 1,000 + people who live here to use as an evacuation route in the event of emergency (ice storm/earthquake/wildfire). This road will be no longer be available for public use; it will become Republics private property.

    The Solid Waste Advisory Committee’s insulting comments about our good faith concerns were entirely out of line and uncalled for.

    I evacuated from a wildfire that burned down my house in 1991, and I did not appreciate the tone of the comments in the meeting last night.

    I think members of SWAC who couldn’t even be bothered to show up to the meeting where neighbors spoke in person, but then roundly insulted us, should resign.

    Plenty of neighbors in the area would much step up and take their places.

  6. George Kurtz says:

    This expansion impacts every person living in Benton and Linn counties and will for centuries. We see and smell the results of the current landfill and it will only get worse with the expansion. Benton County the landfill for Oregon and beyond a wonderful heritage. I expect that a properly designed lawsuit could cause the expansion to be referred to vote of at least Benton County residents which would certainly bring it to a halt. Count me in. I would be happy to share the cost of any proposal.

  7. Richard Vannice says:

    Having lived in Albany since 1960 my family has seen one landfill site on the south side of Albany filled and homes built on it. Now the Coffin Butte site is nearing capacity. We have become a buy, use, throw away (garbage dump) of put it in storage.
    How many of you have heard of Arlington, Oregon? There is a huge landfill operation there that has been going on for over 20 years and some of the waste hauled in there comes from places like King County in Washington.
    It isn’t just “US” that are affected by this it’s the entire country and it’s going to take everyone to stop creating trash.

  8. Doug Pollock says:

    Both Benton Co. Planning Department staff and our Solid Waste Advisory Council (SWAC) have been a disgrace time and again throughout this process. The County’s public notices had a critical wording error (“…vacate Coffin Butte…”, with NO mention that Coffin Butte Road would be PERMANENTLY CLOSED!). When I asked the planner about this, she insisted the road closure was NOT part of the permit (even though it was clearly described in the application). She also insisted that the term “vacation” only applies to roads, so the average citizen would know exactly what was meant. This is completely untrue. “Vacation” in a land-use context can refer to any number of things (from utility corridors to right-of-ways). These are just a couple of the mistruths we’ve been given by County staff.

    Time and again, Benton Co. staff have shown great deference to Republic Services. The Planning Dept. Manager, Greg Verret, extended the deadline for them to resubmit their application. Only a limited number of immediate neighbors were contacted about the closure of Coffin Butte Road, even though thousands of rural, Benton Co. residents would be affected. County staff refused to correct their erroneous public notice. They could have posted signs along Coffin Butte notifying citizens that the road might be closed – but did not. The same tactics were used roughly 2 decades ago, when another local road was closed by the landfill operators with scant public notice.

    At a previous SWAC meeting, the chair, Jay Simpkins, said he didn’t even know if Republic Services makes a profit from running the landfill. What a preposterous thing to say! Running landfills is their business. Their annual revenue is ~$10 BILLION and they had a profit of more than $1 BILLION in 2020. Time and again, the SWAC chair and key members (like Linda Brewer) have shown exceptional bias in favor of Republic Services. At a previous SWAC meeting, the chair was openly hostile to many of the citizens who commented. That should have been grounds for dismissal. With this kind of “leadership”, it’s no wonder they’ve had a hard time finding citizens to serve! I’d encourage folks to watch the videos of the SWAC meetings (available via the County’s website) to see this pathetic process firsthand. The chair should resign and the County should stop delaying the appointment of new members (including several neighbors). None of the SWAC members even live within 3 miles of the landfill. This violates the requirements of the council.

    Another issue that has been glossed over is the enormous carbon footprint associated with all the loads of garbage coming to Benton County from far away. Only 12% of the garbage comes from Benton Co. residents. Using the last year’s waste numbers, I calculated a total of over 5 million truck miles traveled for waste coming to Benton County. That’s more than 37,000 round trips to Portland. Besides the enormous carbon impacts of this waste-shifting, there’s a huge impact on quality of life, safety, and our transportation system. One study I looked at said that a single garbage truck has the impact of more than 5000 cars when it comes to road wear.

    Republic Services and their SWAC parrots mistakenly say there are no other options for this waste, other than sending it hundreds of miles away. Not true! Counties could pay more and send their trash to the waste-to-energy facility at Brooks. Or they could raise taxes and build their own landfills. The artificially low rates that Republic charges for out-of-county waste are the problem. They could easily extend the life of the landfill by simply raising rates. With disposal costs relatively low, there is little incentive for communities to separate recyclables from their municipal waste. If the landfill were only handling Benton County’s trash (as originally intended), it could continue operating for more than 110 years.

    Get involved and send your comments and concerns to the Benton County Planning Commission! Otherwise, we’ll be living with these problems for generations to come…

  9. George Dragich says:

    I live on Tampico Rd and it could be affected as well. Why not take some time to work this problem, because it is a concern for all of Benton county. The sign entering Benton county from the north will read “Benton co the largest trash heap in Oregon”.

  10. Jeff Morrell says:

    As a former member of the SWAC who was the closest member to the landfill (~3/4 miles away), I was surprised to learn that this move had progressed so far. This is a repeat of what was proposed 20 years ago- when a collective group attended a Commissioner’s meeting and convinced them that this was not a good proposal. Then Valley Landfills elected to withdraw the proposal. As little as three years ago (my last time on the board), Republic stated that they had at least 30 years of capacity and that if they needed to expand, the first place they would look was to excavate the original unlined cell to both recover metals and install a liner that would allow them to go higher (as well as reduce the risk of continued contamination as there is a plume moving from the site). Moving across the road is a cheap fix that will force Soap Creek residents to use two far less safe exit routes and uses land that Coffin Butte originally stated was to provide a buffer for adjacent landowners. A factor not mentioned in Mr. Hering’s nicely laid out article (I do miss your editorials in the DH) is that Benton County stands to gain continued access to totally unrestricted funds based upon a per ton charge. Portions of these funds were originally intended to help mitigate landfill effects; however, that quickly disappeared. However, the commissioners have a clear conflict of interest in this affair and have once again ignored those living adjacent to the landfill. I have zero problem living near the landfill as they were here long before we were; however, this expansion is unneeded and deeply disappointing


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