A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Coffin Butte rejection: Appeal is pending

Written December 23rd, 2021 by Hasso Hering

On the horizon, the Coffin Butte Landfill, which Republic Service wants to expand.

On a bike ride Thursday afternoon I looked west toward the Coffin Butte Landfill from Oak Grove Drive in North Albany. Whatever happened to the controversial proposal to expand the landfill and cover up Coffin Butte Road, which the county’s planning commission denied on Dec. 7?

As you’ll hear on the video below, I resolved to get an answer on that point. And I did.

After the ride, I called the Benton County Planning Division, where no one answered. But they didn’t need to. What I wanted to know was readily available on the agency’s website.

Republic Services has appealed the denial of its request for a conditional use permit to expand the dump southward. The company’s area president, Ryan Lawler, filed the appeal on Dec. 20 and paid the $3,435 deposit required by the county. (If the county eventually determines that handling the appeal costs less, it will refund the difference.)

The appeal will be heard by the three-member Board of County Commissioners. Republic asked that proceedings be postponed until March 21 “so that we can determine how best to address the planning commission’s decision.”

When it unanimously rejected the company’s request for a permit, the planning commission said the expansion would “seriously interfere” with uses on adjacent property, with the character of the area, and with the purpose of the zone.

By closing Coffin Butte Road and covering it with trash hundreds of feet high, the expansion also would “impose an undue burden on public improvements, facilities or services available to the area,” the commission found.

In its appeal, Republic took issue with those conclusions, contending they were not supported by evidence.

At a public hearing continued over two evenings because of the number of witnesses, area residents opposing the expansion provided several hours of testimony on which the commission based its denial.

Closure of Coffin Butte Road was a big issue. Republic said the closure could be “mitigated” by providing detours, on Tampico Road to the south or Wiles and Robison Roads to the north. But residents said hilly Tampico was treacherous when icy, and Coffin Butte had the safer intersection on Highway 99W.

Regardless what happens with this request, sooner or later this dump will be full. It’s the only one around, and when it closes, what then? (hh)

12 responses to “Coffin Butte rejection: Appeal is pending”

  1. Greg Storms says:

    What then? Indeed. I was told on the 2nd on line meeting that the Oregon DEQ was not going to allow any new landfill locations. Looks like we will all be trucking our waste out to Arlington. No doubt the bill will go up considerably.

    • Joel Geier says:

      Greg, the statement that you heard about Oregon DEQ was not quite accurate. There IS still a permitting process by which a new landfill could be sited in the Willamette Valley. Just that it’s more difficult to get a DEQ permit for a new landfill than to expand an existing one.

      This plan really should be treated as a new landfill because the footprint will be on a new hillslope (Tampico Ridge) that has not been used for garbage disposal before. It’s a whole new topographic drainage situation, and mostly unknown geology. But Republic is trying to finesse that based on having a bit of infrastructure on that parcel for supporting operations.

      There are plenty of old rock quarries around the Willamette Valley which have geology similar to Coffin Butte, which would not require closing a public road. Some of them are even closer to I-5, and in much less populated areas.

      I wouldn’t wish a new landfill site on anyone. But really there’s no reason why Tampico Ridge should be the site of what practically amounts to a brand new landfill, any more than any of these other places.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    The City of Albany has given Republic Services a monopoly franchise to collect everyone’s garbage.

    The City Council approves the rates (a garbage tax) charged by Republic.

    The City of Albany takes 7 percent of Republic’s gross receipts every month for the granting of this “privilege”.

    Republic passes this 7 percent onto city residents through the rates charged (a garbage tax).

    And now it looks like in the near future Albany’s garbage will have to be trucked over 200 miles to another regional landfill along the Columbia River.

    So the City Council now has more incentive to increase the garbage tax that will be paid by residents and capture more of the gross receipts that will flow from residents to Republic and ultimately into city coffers.

    I’d call this a perverse setup, but it’s by design.

    City government intentionally rewards itself by making life worse for its citizens.

    What a deal.

    • StopTheGrowth says:

      Don’t worry Gordon, I’m sure it will be absorbed by the residents of all these new housing tracts they’re building and planning ;)
      Just wait until THEY come online. The additional garbage will only be one MORE of our problems.

  3. Joel Geier says:

    There’s a lot of room for more efficiency in how local garbage is transported to landfills. Watch Hwy 99W north of Corvallis or Hwy 20 west of Albany any day of the week and you’ll see a steady stream of neighborhood-sized local garbage trucks heading out to the landfill. Then compare the trucks you see coming in from the north (Beaverton and beyond), which are full-sized semis hauling garbage from transfer stations.

    How much does it cost to have all of these local trucks driving 20 miles round-trip every time they pick up trash from what, maybe 50 or 80 households? How much time and diesel do they burn idling their engines, as they sit in a long line at the landfill to dump their loads? All that while, getting no use out of the specialized gear they use to grab your trash cans off the curb.

    And how much longer will local trucks need to wait in that queue, if the commissioners overrule the Planning Commission?

    If the landfill expansion is approved on appeal, there will be no annual cap on how much trash Republic can take from other counties (because the Benton County commissioners agreed to that last year, as part of the deal that county counsel cut with Republic in the 20-year franchise agreement).

    So look for more semis hauling garbage from the counties north of us, while our local garbage haulers wait in ever-longer lines to dump their little loads at what used to be a local landfill. Washington County and Clackamas County haulers might benefit from lower rates, but don’t count on any benefit to local customers in Albany or Corvallis.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “There’s a lot of room for more efficiency in how local garbage is transported to landfills.”
      Intriguing… How would you make it more efficient?

      • Joel Geier says:

        Ray, I’ve pointed out the problem that makes the current Albany/Corvallis system inefficient in terms of fuel consumption:

        Every neighborhood garbage pick-up truck makes a 20 miles round-trip to the local landfill however many times a day they fill up. Then they wait in line at the scale house, then drive up to the tipping area where they wait again for a chance to dump. During all that waiting time, their engines are idling. As a garbage-route customer, you’re paying through your bills for that wasted fuel and for the driver’s time sitting in line, N times per day.

        The solution used in most other Willamette Valley municipalities is to set up transfer stations, so that you consolidate loads into larger trucks or rail cars for more efficient hauling.

        We’re going to need transfer stations here eventually — in about 15 years if this expansion is denied, or perhaps in 20 years if the Benton Board of Commissioners overturn the Planning Commission’s decision (noting that if the cap on annual dumping of waste from outside the county is removed, this expansion might not buy us any more time).

        Transfer stations make sense in terms of fossil fuel consumption. So might as well start building and using them sooner, rather than later.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          “The solution used in most other Willamette Valley municipalities is to set up transfer stations, so that you consolidate loads into larger trucks or rail cars for more efficient hauling.”

          You’re implying they can save money if they:
          * Buy & site additional locations for these stations. (As they have found out that “siting” is easy to do…)
          * Possibly need to add more road-infrastructure to service these locations (including rail)
          * Buy additional “larger” trucks to do the transfer hauling.

          How does this save them/us $$?

          • Joel Geier says:

            Ray, on your first and second points the company already owns properties both in Corvallis and Albany that are used for garbage and recycling handling and would be suitable for transfer stations, if they were converted to that use. There are other industrial-zoned sites sitting vacant or disused in both municipalities.

            On your third point, they wouldn’t need *additional* trucks. They’d need different trucks, and likely a smaller overall fleet than they now maintain. Currently they are under-utilizing the specialized garbage pick-up trucks, by using them for medium-distance hauling for a substantial part of the day.

            But there’s one way to test all of this: City Councils can bring in competition, instead of sleepwalking through no-bid renewals of monopoly agreements with this company every time they come up, and then just accepting their arguments about costs.

            A few years ago the City of McMinnville shifted from a multinational garbage company similar to Republic (WMI), which made the same dire claims about increasing rates if their local landfill (Riverbend) shut down. Guess what? By going to a new competitor (Recology) that uses a transfer-station model plus a few other innovations that Republic has been slow to adopt, McMinnville’s garbage rates stayed flat or even went down for some services.

            You might want to take a look at what McMinnville did, if you want to give Albany better options for the long run.

          • Joel Geier says:

            Ray, as a follow-up:

            Albany and Corvallis will need to shift to transfer stations at some point. It’s not a question of if, but when. So siting and development of transfer stations is not an issue that can be avoided. You can only punt it down the road so far, before you have to deal with it.

            Current permitted capacity of the Coffin Butte landfill is about 16 years (4 in the current cell plus 12 in the quarry which has already been fully permitted for landfill use), with the current cap on annual dumping from out-of-county.

            The proposed new expansion area south of (and over the top of) would add more volume capacity, but it would also remove the annual cap on dumping. So it might not extend the operating life of the landfill at all, or maybe by just a few years.

            Perversely, the proposed expansion could even *shorten* the operating life if Republic jacks up the dumping rate to, say, 3 million tons per year. There is *nothing* in the Benton County franchise agreement that would prevent Republic from doing that, if they decide that it’s in their commercial interest.

            So no matter which way the Benton County commissioners rule on this expansion, we’re going to need to start planning for a shift to transfer stations, sometime in the next two decades. My suggestion is that it’s better to start that process now, rather than later. The sooner we start, the sooner we start to reduce fossil-fuel consumption due to inefficiencies in the current system.

  4. Adam says:

    The expansion request imposes an undue burden on public improvements in many ways, and Republic Services solutions do not mitigate the problems that will be caused by the expansion.

    The loss of Coffin Butte Road will have Major impact on those folks that use it. Re-routing traffic to Tampico or Robinson Road is NOT a viable solution. Coffin Butte is a much safer road for access to and from Highway 99.

    • Coffin Butte Road has very little shade and not plagued with ice problems that Tampico Road has in the winter.

    • The junction of Robinson Road with Highway 99 is a nightmare for those turning left from Highway 99 onto Robinson Road. That junction does not have a dedicated escape lane for left turns on Highway 99. Residents that live west of Highway 99 use Coffin Butte for that very reason since it has a long safe dedicated escape lane.

    • The junction of Highway 99 at Tampico Road and Robinson Road does not have dedicated escape lanes for right turns from Highway 99. The lack of those escape lanes creates a potential accident zone. Most residents that live west of Highway 99 use Coffin Butte to go west because it does have a long safe dedicated right turn escape lane.

    • Coffin Butte Road has a dedicated merge lane onto Highway 99 that Tampico and Robinson Roads do not have. The availability of a merge lane creates a much safer traffic solution from side roads onto Highway 99.

    • The lack of these dedicated escape and merge lanes creates the same problems that are now being addressed with major expansion projects at a cost of many millions of dollars (to the State of Oregon) on Highway 20 near the NW Steele and NW Merloy Avenues, Garland Nursery and the junction with Independence Highway. All of these junctions have been the sites of multiple accidents, some with fatalities.

    Traffic on Highway 99 is increasing at the rate of 11% per year. With current traffic rates, it is to say the least unnerving to make a left turn from Highway 99 to Robinson Road or a right turn from Highway 99 to Tampico or Robinson Road. Most traffic clips along at 65 MPH if not more. Nothing like looking in your rear-view mirror and having a semi full of garbage baring down on you as your stop or slow down to make a turn.

    The irony is, that problem for the most part does not now exist because folks have safe Coffin Butte Road to use. That will change if Coffin Butte Road is closed and the area is covered with out of county trash as Republic Services is proposing.

  5. StopTheGrowth says:

    Infrastructure issues COST the city money. The don’t want to hear about those. They’re more concerned about continuing expansion and bringing IN more money (which I doubt will be used for infrastructure).
    Anybody else see this problem?


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