At the spring meeting of the Yamhill County Solid Waste Advisory Committee in the basement of the county courthouse, official business turns to complaints. “We’re still getting odor issues, noise, gas,” says Sherrie Mathison, the county’s solid waste coordinator. “We’re getting new complaints about the sign: four phone complaints, all about the word ‘farting.’”
Mathison refers to a 16-foot-long sign McPhillips erected last year in one of his fields alongside Highway 18: “Welcome to Yamhill County’s Farting Landfill Ghetto.”
“All of the property value has dropped, trailers are abandoned—it’s a ghetto,” McPhillips chirps from his seat in the audience. “Why spend money on something that’s being destroyed? I’m not usually a vulgar guy.”
Then the tenor of the afternoon changes as a new Waste Not ally, Leonard Rydell, steps before the committee with his arms full of rolled maps and stapled documents. “I’ve got about 40 years of engineering experience, and I used to be the engineer of record at Riverbend,” he says as he spreads out the original plans for the landfill and the dyke shielding it from the floodway. Rydell quit in 1985, he says, because the landfill’s original owners consistently refused to follow his plans or the environmental specifications to prevent leakage.
Rydell stayed silent for the next 27 years out of respect for client confidentiality, he says. He’s also a self-avowed small-government Republican who’s never been keen on landfill opponents or the restrictive Oregon land use system. But in November of last year, when Waste Management proposed its stopgap earthen berm, Rydell had to speak up.
“We don’t build a big corral and fill it full of garbage,” says Rydell. “Most landfills are not in a floodway. What happens when the wires rust out and the walls fall down? I thought to myself, this is ridiculous. I’ve kept quiet too long.”
So he spent the next three weeks poring over his original documents and comparing them to the current maps. A licensed pilot, he flew over the landfill and took photos to compare its current activities to its permitted ones. Things were amiss: Waste Management, he believes, has been building over property and zoning lines, digging dirt out of the river’s floodway to cover the garbage each night without proper permitting, and failing to comply with numerous other permitting conditions.
“What’s out there now was never anticipated,” Rydell tells the committee, his voice growing more excited as he delivers his final blow: spreadsheets from DEQ (finally acquired by McPhillips after four years of requests) showing that monitoring wells around the landfill reveal toxic compounds. In short: the landfill is leaking.
In response, Jennifer Redmond-Noble, an advisory committee member representing the landfill’s neighbors, insists they need to hear from a neutral party, like the Army Corps of Engineers. “The real story is the county is doing nothing,” she says sternly, shortly before the meeting adjourns with no plans for further action.
Since that meeting, other experts have joined Rydell in opposing the landfill’s growth. Richard McJunkin, a professional hydrogeologist who’s worked on over 150 hazardous waste sites, says, “I’m not an arm-waving environmentalist who wants everything shut down. We need landfills. But you wouldn’t want to live downgradient from this site. What you can’t see, touch, or smell could very much hurt you.”
Most alarming to McJunkin and others is the prospect of an earthquake. “This puppy is going to liquefy,” he says. “And from my interpretation, it’s going to be the largest environmental disaster in the history of Oregon.”
Yamhill County’s planning department and representatives of Waste Management flatly state that the landfill is in accord with all permits and environmental regulations. “Rydell and the landfill’s opponents are taking snapshots of information at moments in time, and they’re not looking at everything,” says Brandt, in the planning office.
But Waste Not hopes the new information will force state regulators to reject both plans for an earthen wall and larger expansions. “We basically kept them at bay for four years, which no one thought we’d be able to do,” says McPhillips. “Now we have to fire our last guns and hope there’s some smoke.”