County updates landfill committee bylaws: committee displeased

Sign notifying the Landfill entrance with the landfill itself behind it
Sign notifying the Landfill entrance with the landfill itself behind it
Reid Myers

Benton County commissioners allocated only 20 minutes towards talking about revisionary bylaws to how the Disposal Site Advisory Committee could carry out its work during a county meeting on March 19.

Instead, they spoke for almost an hour.

DSAC exists in accordance with Oregon State law, and according to ORS 459.325, must review regional disposal sites and provide a forum for citizen comments, questions and concerns about the Coffin Butte Landfill in Corvallis.

The state of the landfill was brought into question following an inspection by the Environmental Protection Agency in July 2022, wherein inspectors found 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 changes to the bylaws discussed in the meeting were made amidst concerns from Corvallis residents regarding the Coffin Butte landfill’s impact on the community, which DSAC oversees. 

After the committee’s months-long suspension starting in January, Benton County commissioners passed revisions to DSAC bylaws by a vote of one against and two in favor. 

The suspension came after claims that the committee “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,” said Darren Nichols, community development director for Benton County.

As for the current state of the committee, “The disposal site advisory committee may resume meeting upon direction from the (Benton County) Board of Commissioners and once the board appoints a quorum of members to the committee. The board has asked to review a set of revised draft bylaws that address safety concerns and efficient operations. Once the board is satisfied that adequate measures are in place, the board will provide additional guidance and direction to the committee, its members and staff,” Nichols said.

The revised draft bylaws were made to address the committee’s 2023 decline in civility, Nichols added, including an October 2023 threat of violence to county staff and DSAC’s failure to produce mandatory annual reports to the State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in 2021 and 2022.

Commissioner Nancy Wyse, who voted against the revised bylaws, said the decision felt “too rushed,” while Commissioners Pat Malone and Xanthippe Augerot both voted in favor.

The effectiveness of DSAC has been called into question in recent months following failures to produce mandatory annual reports to the State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality in 2021 and 2022.

According to Ken Eklund, chair of DSAC, the changing bylaws are “entirely aimed at making the committee’s job to monitor the landfill harder to do and slower to happen.”

Eklund added the reason for the committee’s lack of progress on annual reports to DEQ was due to a series of “stone walls” from Benton County officials, including a stretch of time in which the county forced DSAC to focus instead on Benton County Talks Trash, a county waste management work group. 

Susan Walenza, a concerned resident who wrote a letter to The Barometer, said “When the DSAC finally is reconvened with new bylaws created while the committee has been suspended, will we find that the county has engineered a legal means to dilute the voices of the community members who are well versed in the history, issues and science regarding the landfill and whose lives and children’s lives will be greatly impacted by their decisions?”

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