Stephen Hamway
The Bulletin

With Knott Landfill likely just a decade away from reaching capacity, it’s looking more likely that a new, larger landfill will be built in Deschutes County.

On Wednesday, Timm Schimke, director of solid waste for Deschutes County, updated the county commission on plans for life after Knott Landfill, which is expected to be full by 2029 if the county’s current growth and recycling rates hold.

Schimke said the solid waste advisory committee — a collection of citizens and stakeholders that provides input on how the county will process garbage in the future — has narrowed its list of options to two: transport waste to one of the large landfills near the Columbia River Gorge, or build a new, $14 million landfill somewhere in rural Deschutes County with enough capacity to last a century.

While there are pluses and minuses to both options and a path forward is far from certain, the advisory committee and the commissioners appear to be seriously considering a new landfill.

“This decision is one that will clearly outlive all of us in the room,” Commissioner Tammy Baney said during the meeting.

Knott Landfill, built on 135 acres near Bend’s southeastern edge, has received trash from across Deschutes County for nearly 50 years. While the landfill is still growing, it’s nearing the edge of its footprint, and Schimke said the amount of trash has continued to pile up as the county’s population has grown. The county generated 240,800 tons of waste in 2016, and that total could grow to 300,000 tons by 2030, according to the county’s projections.

Transporting Deschutes County’s waste to another landfill allows the county to avoid the expensive, time-consuming process of constructing another landfill, but means the county has less control over how it’s processed, and may cost just as much in the long term.

Schimke said the cost of monitoring, operating and maintaining garbage at Knott Landfill comes out to about $35 per ton of trash.

Trucking the garbage north to one of the landfills near the Columbia River Gorge, which are each at least135 miles away, would cost between $47 and $62 per ton.

Mike Riley, executive director of The Environmental Center and a member of the solid waste advisory committee, said there’s also an environmental advantage to keeping the waste closer to home. The emissions from garbage trucks traveling to and from the Columbia River Gorge would be far greater than those generated by trips within Deschutes County. He said he’d like to see the county take responsibility for its own waste rather than foisting it on another part of the region.

“It’s our stuff, it’s our garbage, we should take care of it responsibly,” Riley said.

Still, building a new landfill from scratch is not an easy task, and is relatively uncommon. Schimke estimated that it’s been 25 years since a municipal landfill has been constructed in Oregon. He said Deschutes County looked at other landfill sites in the 1990s, before ultimately deciding to expand Knott Landfill instead.

Schimke said a new landfill large enough to last a century would require a 640-acre parcel. Additionally, any new landfill is subject to a number of state and federal restrictions. Jason Mustard, natural resource specialist for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s material management program, said a new landfill likely wouldn’t be permitted within six miles of an airport, because birds that are attracted to the trash could affect takeoffs and landings.

Mustard said landfills also need to be located away from earthquake fault lines and environmentally sensitive areas, which can make it hard to find spots for them in the wilderness. However, placing them too close to residents is often politically unpopular. The best bet, Mustard said, is finding an area out in the wilderness that’s already disturbed, like an abandoned rock quarry.

“It’s not going to be an easy task,” Mustard said. “It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.”

During the initial planning process, Schimke said the advisory committee looked at other options, including using Crook County’s existing landfill and leaning on new technologies for converting municipal garbage to energy. However, Schimke said the new technology is likely to remain prohibitively expensive for the foreseeable future for Deschutes County’s relatively small amount of trash, and would leave residue that would still require a landfill in the future.

“There isn’t anything that takes it all like a landfill takes it all,” he said.

While Crook County’s landfill, located to the west of Prineville, has an estimated 100-year lifespan, adding waste from a much larger county would dramatically reduce that to 15 years, which neither county is prepared to commit to.

“The prospect of going from a 100-year site to a 15-year site was not attractive,” Schimke said.

Finding a spot for the landfill, defending it in lawsuits and appeals and building it could produce a $14 million price tag, Schimke estimated. He said the county could opt to raise rates ahead of the project, or borrow part of the cost before paying it back. No matter what path the county chooses, Schimke cautioned that waste disposal will get significantly more expensive.

“It’s never going to be as cheap as it was in the past,” he said.

Schimke said the county will host a public meeting on waste disposal Jan. 31, and he’s expecting the solid waste management plan to be complete by February or March. For now, the county’s focus is on educating residents about the options going forward.

“I’m getting ready to take this show on the road and educate as many people as possible,” Schimke said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818,