Waste Management

Riverbend looks to community for advice

Yamhill Valley News Register - Nathalie Hardy
July 28, 2012

The concept is simple enough:

A local business wants to give something back to its neighbors and the community. So it convenes a cross-section of those groups to shape that gift.

It's a little more complicated, however, when that business is the Riverbend Landfill, which operates on a regional basis under national ownership, and is the focus of heated local controversy.

The thing is, many of its neighbors would like nothing more than to put Riverbend out of business altogether. And they have allies in the larger community.

But the "something" being offered in this case is 450 acres of potentially high-value land. That's equivalent to five parks the size of McMinnville's signature Joe Dancer.

In addition, the company is taking a series of other community goodwill measures. It has launched a series of monthly community meetings, established a community comment hotline, reduced its operating hours to accommodate neighbor concerns.

The land evaluation task is being charged to a 32-member Stewardship Committee. And the company intentionally reached out to its critics in determining its makeup.

"The goal was for the nomination committee to form a group of county citizens representing a broad cross-section of the community, including people who had concerns about the company's operation at different times," said Jackie Lang, Oregon communications director for Riverbend's Houston-based parent company, Waste Managment Inc.

Over the years, Lang said, Riverbend has acquired a significant amount of acreage to provide a buffer for its operations and to ensure adequate space for operational support. All told, it has amassed 705 acres.

Only 85 are currently being devoted to waste storage, and only 60 more are being proposed for that purpose in the future.

"We never planned to put landfill on most of the land," Lang said. "Now, as we look forward, we expect to only need a small portion of this land for future landfill operation."

Riverbend recently released a map delineating the various tracts under its ownership. She said it is asking the committee to help it develop a clear picture of long-term needs, providing an opportunity for "the community to use the other acreage."

Lang said the aim of the visioning process is to chart a course for how Waste Management land can be used in ways that are important to a broad cross-section of the community.

Riverbend began by creating a three-member nominating committee, consisting of Jeb Bladine, publisher and president of the News-Register; Ed Gormley, a prominent businessman and six-term mayor; and Lee Vasquez, a former county sheriff and long-time civic leader. Eventually, they developed a list of 32, each invited to serve a three-year term.

When the group was convened for the first time Thursday night, Vasquez said, "This meeting is not about the landfill. Waste Management is trying to be a partner with the community."

Member Murry Paolo, who serves both the city and county as information technology director, said he was both surprised and pleased with the overall positive tone of the meeting. He said there was an undercurrent of concern in the room, but the communication was respectful and productive.

"I thought it was a problem-solving environment," Paolo said. "You can get a lot of stuff done in that kind of environment. It's a pleasure to be a part of it."

Member Susan Meredith, a landfill neighbor helping lead opposition to landfill expansion through the citizen group Waste Not, agreed with that assessment. "It was a really diverse group of people, there was good dialogue and a lot of listening," she said.

But she also said, "Speaking for myself, my hope is by seeking to actively engage the community in this planning process, it's not going to serve to divert the community's attention and cause the community to lose sight of the core issue, which the community needs to address - and that is the current and continued dumping of millions of tons of garbage in the flood plain and on the banks of the South Yamhill river, creating an ever larger mountain of trash in the midst of our verdant valley. I'm going into this very open-minded, but everybody knows where I'm coming from."

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