For the past eleven years, Waste Management Inc, a Texas-based garbage company, has been trying to expand their dump, Riverbend, just outside of McMinnville. And for the past eleven years, Ramsey McPhillips and the Stop the Dump Coalition have been working to stop the expansion. Through all those years, our local land-use decision-makers (Yamhill County Planning Department) have consistently given Waste Management the go-ahead to expand.
The courts of review, including the Land Use Board of Appeals and the Court of Appeals, have gone back and forth in remanding, reversing and sometimes upholding county decisions. The stop-dumpers are incredibly persistent, fighting year after year to stop the expansion. In the court of public opinion, Ramsey and his partners have won; in Yamhill County, sentiment has shifted completely. Ten years ago, people thought it unfair to oppose such nice people who just wanted to keep their landfill going, for the good of our community. Now, the county and the city of McMinnville are strongly considering moving their garbage to Washington or the Columbia River Gorge’s Arlington dump, and people are tired of the ugly, stinky eye-sore mound of garbage in their beautiful valley, beside their beautiful river.
And now, after agreeing to review the conflict, this morning, the Oregon Supreme Court heard oral arguments. I attended, and sat between the Capital Press’ Mateusz Perkowski (who wrote the article in May about our cannabis farm) and the News-Register’s Nicole Montesano (former veggie customer). Across the chamber sat most of Yamhill County’s planning staff (in front of them sat Todd Sadlo, the former attorney for Baker Rock and now the assistant county counsel), and beyond them were Ilsa Perse, Sid Friedman, Ramsey McPhillips, Susan Meredith, Lilian Frease, and Susan Watkins. I have known all of them at least ten years; most of them we met in 2006, the year we moved to Yamhill County and started the veggie farm.
At issue is the application to expand the dump onto exclusive farm use zoned land. Since depositing and storing solid waste is considered a non-farm use, just like a quarry or a house, land use laws say that the proposed use cannot significantly affect existing farming practices and cannot significantly increase the cost of those practices on the surrounding parcels. Waste Management (and the county) decided that they could mitigate the problems by forcing conditions of approval on the neighboring farms. If they pick up the trash before Ramsey cuts hay, or purchase all of Lilian Frease’s berries at retail prices, then the problem goes away, right? Today, the justices get to decide if the law allows for forced mitigation of a problem, or whether these mitigation measures actually constitute a significant change in farming practices and in the costs of farming.
Justices Landau, Walters and Balmer were especially active in questioning the attorneys. When they issue their opinion, it has the potential to completely change how planners decide non-farm use applications in farm-zoned areas. With 27 officially-acknowledged non-farm activities that can be allowed, with permission, on EFU land (exclusive farm use), returning to a standard where the applicant must defend their request, rather than forcing farmers to provide evidence of possible harm, will completely shift the decision-making process. It will be harder to justify non-farm use of EFU land, and applicants will have to mitigate on their land, rather than forcing farmers to show damage and accept outside mitigation on them.