Oregon Farmers Fight Against Landfill Expansion

Producers concerned contaminated groundwater will impact crops.

Published on: Sep 20, 2012

 In an uphill battle for McMinnville, Ore., regional farmers against a growing landfill operation adjacent to agricultural land, producers found an ally in a former engineer for the dump.

Leonard Riddell is now helping producers in their claims that the dump is not being operated in an environmentally safe manner.  Rydell, who worked for the dump owners, Waste Management, until 1985, says he quit over arguments with management in proper dump leakage efforts.

But WM has countered with its own public relations broadside in the name of Paul Burns, an engineer    who the Texas company says came into the Yamhill County battle to bring some peace among the critics.

Oregon Farmers Fight Against Landfill Expansion
Oregon Farmers Fight Against Landfill Expansion

Nevertheless, he says that the dump company plans to expand, albeit perhaps by building a wall around the site to allow more garbage to be spread into flanking wings.

Waste Not of Yamhill County, an organization of dump opposition fighting expansion,  is today hoping for Oregon Department of Environmental Quality help in halting dump growth. One argument is that the Riverbend Landfill, its official name, is indeed at a turn in the Yamhill River, which critics argue is a site of concern if groundwater leads from the lower cells of the dump, which farmer spokesman Ramsey McPhillips claims can leak.

"There is evidence in test wells around the dump that this is already happening," he reports. "Isn't it just a matter of time before it contaminates the soils on my farm?"

McPhillips Farm just recognized by the state for 150 years of operation under a single family ownership, continues to face threat of contamination from the dump.

As the dump fighters continue their costly battles, they hope they can close down the facility in as little as two years. However, says McPhillips, "maybe it will still be here in 20 years."

That would make it 50 years of dumping garbage on prime Yamhill County farm land.

"We have to stop what they're doing," says McPhillips. "I'd like the farm to be here in another  150 years. I'm concerned that by then it will all be under landfill."

That hope may have been strengthened by a Stop the Dump concert in mid-September at the Youngberg Hills Vineyard near McMinnville featuring local bands and the grandchildren of the Von Trap family singing in an ice cream social called "The Yam-Hills Are Alive."

"We made $10,000 on the concert," says McPhillips of the event which attracted Portlanders to, as he put it, "see that their trash is going to farm land on a river bank where your food is grown."

"We hope to inspire discussions on how we can create green jobs and energy from trash rather than piling it up and letting it sit there."

McPhillips says since his farm actually borders the dump, he has the most to lose soonest of all the area's farmers. For that reason, he declares himself the most aggressive of all opponents in the fight.

Perhaps so: not long ago he put up a controversial sign on Highway 18, which runs past the dump, reading "Welcome to Yamhill County's Farting Landfill Ghetto," a reference to the methane emissions from the dump.

With his heritage farm now rezoned so that the dump could expand  onto his property, his passion runs high against the landfill.

He has since taken down the sign following complaints by citizens and county officials.

For more on this story, see the October issue of Western Farmer-Stockman.