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Deschutes commissioners vote 3-0 to begin talks to acquire Moon Pit for new landfill – but no one’s about to write a check

Moon Pit landfill Deschutes County
Deschutes County
Moon Pit, Deschutes County's planned site for new landfill.
Deschutes County commissioners Moon Pit landfill 7-10
Deschutes County
Deschutes County commissioners Patti Adair, Tony DeBone and Phil Chang (via Zoom) discussed details of new landfill site, 'Moon Pit.'

(Update: Adding county news release)

$15 million site pick's major concerns: mitigation requirements, value of aggregate - and water rights

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Deschutes County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to begin negotiations with Hooker Creek to purchase the Moon Pit site east of Bend for the county’s next landfill - but also dove back into several concerns they say must be resolved before the deal currently valued at $15 million is a done deal.

As with the board's previous discussion after years of work by county staff and the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, who recommended the site, much of the focus was on three areas: the value of minerals at the gravel mine and how that factors into the land's cost; the complex issue of assured water rights for the facility, and just how robust mitigation efforts for wildlife and other landfill impacts will be.

Other factors are also connected, of course, such as new state rules and county efforts to boost lagging recycling and construction waste diversion rates from the current Knott and future Moon Pit landfills.

Since that earlier talk and request for information, consultants Parametrix have tried to provide the details commissioners were seeking. But at least from Commissioner Phil Chang’s perspective, the memos didn't ease his concerns -- and if those answers don’t come in satisfactory manner, he’s more than willing to reopen the site selection process.

Commissioner Tony DeBone noted for his colleagues and those watching that he'd reviewed the extensive design work already done on the two finalists they were choosing between Moon Pit and Roth East.

“We basically have this pre-designed facility for both of these (finalist) sites,” Moon Pit and Roth East, he said. “This is a road map for both facilities.”

And Solid Waste Director Tim Brownell pointed out a planned request for proposals to help the county expand recovery of recyclables, as well as construction and demolition debris, and expanding organics management processing.

But Chang isn’t ready to play his part in writing the check, so to speak – just one of the steps in a process that will take years of permitting, etc., and cost far more to develop and operate than the land itself.

“I still have significant concerns about this site,” he said. “I would want to make sure the county gets the best deal possible for the county and the ratepayers, and also that we are meeting all our obligations and responsibilities for mitigation before I’m comfortable proceeding with this site.”

Still, the order they approved (to read the order, see page 200 of Wednesday’s commission packet) only starts the negotiation process.

So far, the information on water rights leaves Commission Chair Patti Adair “incredibly nervous. When we should have more power, we have no power.”

County Property Manager Kristie Bollinger said she spoke to a primarily residential appraiser who provided a name of someone who can help them “properly value the land because of the aggregate.” And she later noted that even if a sales agreement is worked out months down the road, the price could change, based on the outcome on those issues.

Adair said: “There’s a lot of tricks there, aren’t there? It’s very complicated,” and a decision not to be taken lightly: “We really want to do it right.”

Chang said he was “comfortable with proceeding to negotiations. It doesn’t mean I’m sold on this site and ready to move forward. I think it would be good to explore all these of these things: the mitigation required, how to share the risk and reward of mineral resources, and whether we can secure a reliable, affordable supply of water for the site.”

Brownell assured that “we will be evaluating the appropriateness of the price,” and will “make sure the mineral rights are clearly understood and the benefits of those mineral rights are incorporated into our price.” That includes the benefit it could bring for county road projects, as well as the free-market value of those rights.

He said the “due diligence process, permitting procurement, is going to take us several years of getting to the point of a final check for this site.”

Chang was fine with starting those talks, but said he views the outstanding issues “as potentially fatal flaws" for a final deal. And if they can’t work it out, he said he’d be fine with a stop in negotiations, and to explore other site options.

Adair said the consultants' July 3 memo on the water rights issue “makes me very nervous,” when it talks about the potential for the county having to seek a groundwater permit on its own, rather than part of the agreement with Hooker Creek.

DeBone said moving from 30% waste recovery to a goal of 45% will take quite a “community discussion.” Adair said China quit taking U.S. recyclables: “I was recycling my feed bags. The company doesn’t want the bags back – they can’t use them. I thought that was very enlightening.”

Chang said the Oregon Recycling Modernization Act is “about to kick in,” with “significant impacts” ahead.

Adair said it’s likely to increase the cost for customers, and Chang agreed: “Recycling costs money. The question is, who is going to pay for that? I’m seeing a requirement for producers to cover some of that cost, to create and stimulate certain kinds of markets. Yeah, they probably will be passing some of it along to the consumer. Somebody has to pay for it somewhere in the system.”

After the unanimous vote, DeBone said, “Hey, that’s a big day – that’s a big moment. We’ve been working for that for two years!”

Adair replied, “Oh, I just think it’s just one of many moments that are going to continue on, because this is a long ways from being done.”

“Yeah,” Chang said, “we haven’t landed this thing yet.”

As Brownell, who knows that full well, got up to leave, he told the board: “As Schwarzenegger said: ‘I’ll be back.’”

And as he moved on, Adair called out in a fairly light tone: “Figure out the recycling, Tim, for Pete’s sake!”


County news release:

County moving forward in process to find a future landfill location

"Moon Pit" site east of Bend

On Wednesday, July 10, the Deschutes County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted to select “Moon Pit” as the preferred location for the County’s next landfill and authorized County staff to move forward with the selection process.

“With the Board’s selection of Hooker Creek’s “Moon Pit” property, County staff can now begin negotiating a purchase agreement, securing necessary permits and establishing a mitigation strategy that will minimize impacts to wildlife and recreation in the area,” said Deschutes County Solid Waste Director Tim Brownell. “We are doing our due diligence before any final decisions are made on a new landfill location.”  

The County’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) unanimously recommended the “Moon Pit” site earlier this spring. Then in June, the BOCC held a public hearing to allow community members to provide their input on the location of the County’s future Solid Waste Management Facility. The BOCC also provided time for the public to submit comments in writing. All written public comments and other relevant materials pertaining to the public hearing may be viewed here.

Following the public hearing, the BOCC asked for additional information regarding water rights, environmental mitigation and the value of the aggregate on the property, all of which will be considered as the County does further exploration of the “Moon Pit” site.

The “Moon Pit” property is located east of Bend on U.S. Route 20 and is currently a privately owned aggregate surface mine. SWAC’s final evaluation included the following feedback about the proposed location:

  • The “Moon Pit” site is already disturbed (it is currently being used as an aggregate surface mine)
  • It is likely to have fewer new impacts to wildlife and recreation in the area
  • It is closer to existing Solid Waste facilities, which means lower haul costs and greenhouse gas emissions

A new solid waste facility will be needed once Knott Landfill, the County’s only landfill, reaches capacity in 2029. Over the past two years, the Department of Solid Waste has been working with a consultant team and SWAC to screen and evaluate potential in-county locations using siting criteria that include environmental, land use, site characteristics, and engineering considerations. This work is documented in the Deschutes County Solid Waste Management Facility Final Site Evaluation Report, which is available at:  

The Department of Solid Waste has included $2,700,000 in the Fiscal Year 2025 budget for this next phase in the landfill siting process. The overall project development cost is anticipated to be between $50-60 million to procure, permit, develop and commence operation in 2030.

Article Topic Follows: Deschutes County

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