Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press
SALEM — The Oregon Supreme Court is considering a dispute over a landfill that’s expected to resolve a broader question about allowable impacts on farmland from non-farm development.
Several neighbors of the Riverbend Landfill near McMinnville, Ore., have long been fighting its planned expansion, arguing the larger facility will further disrupt surrounding agriculture.
Landfills and certain other non-farm developments are allowed in areas zoned for “exclusive farm use,” or EFU, as long as they don’t have significant impacts on nearby farmers.
In this case, Yamhill County approved the landfill’s expansion because its owner, Waste Management, agreed to compensate local farmers for the cost of picking up litter and for the damage caused to fruit by defecating birds.
The arrangement was approved by the Oregon Court of Appeals but has failed to satisfy opponents of the landfill, who argue that it allows developers to pay off farmers for adverse effects.
Under Oregon law, conditions imposed on non-farm developments are meant to prevent such negative impacts, rather than simply compensate growers financially, according to landfill critics.
“You’re already taking farmland out of production. We really have to be protective of the farms in the surrounding EFU area or we’re losing more,” said Jeff Kleinman, attorney for the Stop the Dump Coalition and other opponents, during oral arguments on Nov. 13 before the Oregon Supreme Court.
The interpretation of statewide land use law by the Oregon Court of Appeals effectively creates “primacy of non-farm use over the farm use,” contrary to the intent of Oregon lawmakers, Kleinman said.
Tommy Brooks, attorney for Waste Management, disagreed that the Oregon Court of Appeals ruling marked a serious departure from accepted standards for non-farm development in farm zones.
Significant impacts from development are prohibited if they render surrounding farmland unviable for agricultural purposes, such as a pasture that can no longer be grazed by cattle, Brooks said.
However, conditions imposed on a project can mitigate those concerns until they’re no longer significant, he said.
For the hay farmer who was allegedly burdened with litter patrols, the added cost was shifted to Waste Management, he said.
Similarly, another farmer was still able to produce cherries, but Waste Management provided compensation for the crop’s lost value due to alleged bird damage, Brooks said.
“As long as the incremental cost (to the grower) is removed, it cannot be significant,” he said.
During the oral arguments, several Oregon Supreme Court justices questioned whether significant impacts to agriculture are permissible in farm zones under statewide land use law, as long as the developer compensates the grower.
Conditions imposed on non-farm developments can prevent undesirable changes from occurring in the first place, said Justice Martha Lee Walters.
“That’s different than reducing the cost of the change,” she said.