Benton County officials suspend Disposal Site Advisory Committee

Coffin Butte Landfill in operation as a garbage truck leaves the area.
Coffin Butte Landfill in operation as a garbage truck leaves the area.
Reid Myers

Oregon law mandates that any county that maintains a landfill must also maintain a disposal site advisory committee, but when Ken Eklund, chair of Benton County’s Disposal Site Advisory Committee called for a meeting, he was forced to cancel it as the county would not send anyone to log the hours.

The next day, the DSAC was put on suspension until January, according to the county.

Darren Nichols, community development director for Benton County, said the committee was suspended because it “created an unsafe workplace for the public, volunteers and staff; committee members have dangerously misled the public; and the committee has ineffectively wasted public resources.”

The committee assists the county by reviewing the closure, operation and monitoring of the Coffin Butte Landfill, providing a forum for citizens to voice comments, questions and concerns.

Eklund claimed the county had “placed the committee in an impossible situation, by denying it the ability to meet without justification or cause,” thereby preventing citizens from expressing their worries associated with the landfill.

This came after the committee attempted to draft the 2021 Community Concerns Annual Report and was prevented from doing so by the county, according to Ecklund.

Cory Grogan, public information officer for Benton County, stated in an email that since 2022, the DSAC has met four times alongside the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, six times in work sessions to focus on Benton Community Talks Trash and only once as the SWAC.

There is currently no information about the SWAC available on the Benton County website.

The annual report would have detailed environmental concerns associated with the Coffin Butte Landfill following a detailed investigation by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. 

In July of 2022, the EPA conducted an inspection of the Coffin Butte Landfill, finding 61 areas with an overabundance of methane gas. Daniel Heins, environmental scientist for the EPA, ran out of marking flags while conducting the survey.

The landfill covers a total of 740 acres, with 178 acres permitted to be used as landfill space and 500 acres being used for wildlife and wetland habitat.

According to Eklund, a previous application to expand the landfill was met with “an outpouring of community expressions of concern,” with over 200 written comments and hours of oral comments.

Subjects of concern included questions of odor, trash and environmental impacts of the landfill.

These concerns were added to the 2021 Community Concerns Annual Report that was to be approved by the DSAC, but when the draft was presented by the county in July 2022, Eklund said that it did not accurately portray the concerns of community members, as it included too little information about the complaints.

Following these events, the DSAC agreed to draft a Community Concerns Annual Report of their own. 

Eklund also claimed that as 2022 came to an end, requests from the DSAC for time to finish the 2021 Annual Report were denied by the county without explanation, followed by the county’s cancellation of committee meetings scheduled throughout November and December of 2022.

Grogan shared that five committee members had left in the past two years due to feeling unsafe, unproductive and bullied due to the behavior of specific individuals on the committee, regarding the cancellations.

Grogan also shared an email sent to Nichols, in which an unnamed member of the DSAC stated that it was frustrating to hear confrontational words when talking about county procedures and employees, and suggested things may get better when the DSAC shifts members, many of whom are serving terms ending before January.

Eklund said the lack of progress made by the committee is the result of action taken by the county, and struggling to find meeting times impeded progress that the DSAC could be making towards other responsibilities.

Because the DSAC exists in accordance with Oregon law, it cannot be disbanded by Benton County, only put on a temporary suspension.

Members of all advisory boards for Benton County, including the DSAC, are appointed by the Board of Commissioners to fill vacancies, and all have set terms.

The suspension of the DSAC is due to last until January 2024, when four of the seven seats on the committee will be up for new membership, according to their website.

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