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Coffin Butte: Benton County hears more opposition to landfill expansion

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Coffin Butte expansion 18

Road access at this corner near the Coffin Butte landfill will be reworked if Republic Services' landfill expansion plans proceed. Motorists would have to use a new northern route via Robison Road or a southern route via Tampico Road to get to Highway 99 because Soap Creek Road (left fork) would no longer connect to the highway. 

The Benton County Planning Commission heard almost 2.5 hours of public testimony Tuesday night, Nov. 16 regarding plans by Republic Services to expand its Coffin Butte landfill. Residents were nearly unanimous in their opposition to the proposal.

No deliberations or vote took place, with commissioners expected to take those actions at their Dec. 7 meeting. Republic needs a conditional use permit from the county to move forward. 

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A total of 19 individuals testified in the virtual session, with all but one expressing opposition to the proposal. The lone backer was Tyrone Belgarde of Knife River, the company that operates a quarry on the Coffin Butte property.

Those testifying in opposition largely raised similar themes shared in the 4.5-hour public hearing on Nov. 2. The length of that session led commissioners to decide to continue the public hearing until this week and allow all who had signed up to testify orally.

Key concerns expressed by residents, many of whom live within a mile or less of the landfill, are the closure of Coffin Butte Road, odor and noise issues, the impact of the project on wildlife, water quality and contamination, methane and leachate pollution and whether the expansion is needed. Coffin Butte Road would be "vacated" because it would be covered by the expansion of the landfill pile.

"Republic is not a good partner," said Marge Popp, citing her concerns about its environmental record.

"These issues are complex, life changing and permanent," said Mark Yeager, who previous served on the county's Solid Waste Advisory Council. Yeager also noted, as did many others, that the proposed closing of Coffin Butte Road at Soap Creek Road created an "undue burden."

"We humans are not good at thinking about the future," Ken Hoechlin said. "Republic wants to speed up the methane factory to the max before updated regulations get here. I know you know all this, so I don't understand how all this is happening. There should be someone besides us saying, 'No, oh god, no.' That's why we have the Planning Commission, to stop the process once it goes rogue." 

Said Carrie Norris: "There are so many gaps in this plan that I'm frankly astonished that it has gotten this far."

One resident testified mockingly by pretending to be participating in a meeting at which "greedy" Republic Service officials were going over their “talking points.”

A total of 32 people testified in public during the two hearings, with the comment portion of the proceeding consuming more than four hours. Following the public testimony Republic officials and their representatives offered a brief rebuttal of the testimony, although they noted that their final argument, due by Dec. 6, will be more substantial.

“The Coffin Butte landfill is an important resource in this county that fills a critical need,” said Jeff Condit, an attorney with Miller Nash of Portland. “Republic has an excellent track record at Coffin Butte and has been a good neighbor.”

Should the expansion not move forward, Condit added, local customers would face much higher rates to route trash to the Arlington landfill along the Columbia River. That facility is approximately 200 miles away from Coffin Butte.

One key point of contention that remains unresolved involves Tampico Road. The county wants Republic to improve the road because of the additional traffic it likely would pick up when Coffin Butte Road is closed to through traffic.

Republic officials say a new northern route that would connect the Soap Creek Road/Tampico Road area with Highway 99W via Robison Road would take care of the extra traffic issues. County officials instead prefer that improvements be directed to Tampico, saying that traffic that was no longer able to use Coffin Butte Road was more likely wind up on Tampico than the northern route. 

The county preference on Tampico is one of the conditions of approval county staff have recommended be required of Republic to move forward with the project. The Planning Commission will make the final call on any conditions attached to the permit.

In the only vote that has taken place to date the county's Solid Waste Advisory Council recommended on a 5-1 vote that the Planning Commission approve the permit.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@lee.net or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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