Waste Management

Stewards should start with farming, education

JUNE 14, 2013 -- By The News-Register Editorial Board

It has been more than 19 months since the News-Register first reported Waste Management, Inc.'s intent to donate the use of land surrounding its Riverbend Landfill. Last week, some flesh was put on the bones of the plan as a first round of proposals were presented to the 32-member Riverbend Stewardship Committee.

A running theme of the proposals was to focus on farm-centric enterprises, a natural step given that the land is zoned exclusive-farm-use. Agriculture and education should be emphasized.

Winemaker Ken Wright proposed creation of a statewide home facility for the Future Farmers of America Foundation. Former Farmer's Market manager Barbara Boyer suggested a vision she calls a Community Farm Collaboration. Another proposal simply recommended using the land for more commercial farming - some of it already is leased for that purpose.

Any one of those proposals would fit a need. With 450 acres to work with, the stewardship committee does not have to choose just one project, or just one type of use. Focusing on meeting community needs, we especially like the education aspect included in proposals by Wright and Boyer.

As we discussed on these pages last week, Yamhill County has many successful public-private partnerships connecting public education and vocations. The list includes vineyards planted and tended by students at Yamhill-Carlton High School, and another program in the Eola Hills created for Chemeketa Community College's viticulture program.

An agricultural education hub of some kind could serve students from every part of the county - and the state, for that matter. It would continue the tradition of successful public-private partnership, but expand on the idea by involving myriad institutions. Every local school, including Linfield College and Chemeketa, along with the Oregon State University Extension Service, could find year-round uses for such a compound in the middle of the county. As Wright's proposal suggests, a facility also would have statewide implications, drawing traffic here.

There is some irony in the vision of an educational farming facility on land adjacent to a landfill that has caused the ire of area farmers and their supporters. Riverbend was smart to reach out to some of its critics to participate in the process, helping to separate efforts of the stewardship committee from the continuing controversy related to proposed expansion of the landfill. One way or another, this land will be around long after the waste stops coming.

Other proposals presented last week included park options, such as equestrian trails or a disc golf course, and sport uses such as presented by Tim Harris of the See Ya Later Foundation. These options would require zoning actions but are worthy to keep on the table for future phases of development.

When Paul Burns of Waste Management presented conceptual ideas to the county board of commissioners in 2011, he described a similar process at a New Hampshire facility as creating a "living document" that encompassed multiple uses as the program progressed. We see farming and education as the heart of such a document for Riverbend's Stewardship Committee.

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