City Government, Community, Lane County

System could be game-changer in waste processing

Proposed facility aims to increase diversion of materials from the landfill to achieve a minimum of 63% county-wide recycling rate.

GOSHEN – The “great garbage machine” may be making its way to Goshen, pending approval from the Lane County board of commissioners later this month.

A trio at a recent Springfield City Club meeting discussed the Integrated Material and Energy Recovery Facility (IMERF), which they said would be the most technologically advanced waste processing facility in the country. Those panelists included Dan Hurley, Lane County public works director; Jeff Orlandini, county waste management division manager; and Steve Miller of Bulk Handling Systems (BHS). 

“We’re talking about having maybe three facilities in one,” Hurley said. The facility would be sandwiched between Interstate 5 and Highway 99 South, near West Peebles Road — not too far from the Short Mountain Landfill in Goshen.

According to Hurley, the team has been working on the IMERF project for several years and even went down to California to study systems there.

“You all see on the news about climate change and the impacts. We have wildfires here,” Hurley said. “This alone won’t solve climate (change), but I think we’re at this point as a society where all governments need to take bold action to mitigate the impacts that we’re causing to the climate. This is one way that we can do this in a real, substantial way – and in a short period of time.”

A perk of the facility is that, according to Miller, everything is enclosed, and all the air is treated.

“You can literally stand at the wall of the facility, and you will smell nothing,” Miller said. “If you go inside, you’ll have some odors involved with organic waste breaking down, but we’re very focused on making sure that, from a community point of view, there’s no odor whatsoever that leaves the facility.”

The IMERF would produce over a million diesel gallon equivalent per year of biogas, the gaseous product of the decomposition of organic matter, which is upgraded to pipeline quality Renewable Natural Gas (RNG): biogas that has been processed to purity standards and can be used as transportation fuel, for example. It would feature recovery and conversion of organic waste into RNG through anaerobic digestion, which refers to the decomposition of organic matter with the absence of oxygen.

RNG plays a pivotal role in getting to net zero – which means reaching a balance between emissions introduced to the atmosphere and emissions removed – because it addresses the methane emissions.

“The way a landfill works is it gets all compacted down so that we can make that space last as long as possible,” Hurley said. “The problem is, when it does that, all the oxygen gets used up, and it starts producing methane – and methane is much more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide, which it would decompose to naturally.”

The IMERF will also produce Negative Carbon Intensity RNG fuel – which means offsetting more carbon than is contributed to the environment – under Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program (CFP): a statewide policy to address Oregon’s contribution to global climate change. Since 2016, CFP has notably resulted in:

• Companies which produce biofuels making those fuels more cleanly and delivering them in greater volumes to Oregon.

• The transition to biofuels and electricity is reducing tailpipe pollution – this regards emissions from vehicles – and improving public health.

• The transition away from foreign produced petroleum fuels has spurred innovation and investments without impacting the price at the pump.

• A Visitor and Educational Center (VEC) for schools, community groups, and other interested residents and businesses is another of the facility’s features. This was especially important to Orlandini.

“If we could get younger students to understand recycling and waste, they’ll teach their parents,” Orlandini said. “Surprisingly, they’re more active in getting behavior change than government officials are.”

The state-of-the-art materials processing facility would be able to recover commodities from solid waste headed to the landfill, and the processing of commingled recyclables from local collection programs would provide local capacity and reduce long haul shipments for processing.

“We’ll have a line in (the facility) for sorting the residential garbage that will come through and pulling out for recycling that shouldn’t be in there, the food waste that shouldn’t be in there, and there will also be a component that can distort the commingled recycling currently getting trucked into the Portland area and beyond where we could process that locally,” Hurley said.

This directly ties into one of the project’s objectives: to “increase diversion of materials from the landfill to achieve a minimum of 63% county-wide recycling rate.” 

Hurley and Orlandini said Lane County has the best recycling rate in Oregon at 52%. Orlandini said that knowing other places in the country are closer to 75-80% drives them to reach 63%.

Another project objective is to “significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Short Mountain Landfill.”

“Landfills are this silent emitter of greenhouse gases, but it’s the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Lane County,” Hurley said.

The facility would hopefully divert over 110,000 tons of material annually from the County’s landfill for processing, to generate marketable natural gas, and it would serve as a regional recycling hub for southwest Oregon. The team is also projecting a decrease of 88,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year.

Creating local, sustainable economic development and jobs is the third objective the presenters mentioned. Hurley said there is a parcel in Goshen which caught the team’s attention. He added that Lane County is very interested in Goshen to increase economic development there.

According to Orlandini, BHS was chosen to partner with for a variety of reasons – one being that it has proven itself to be competent and able to do the necessary work.

“We have this unique opportunity here having Bulk Handling Systems here locally. It’s amazing we don’t have a facility here to process waste with this capacity,” Hurley said. “They literally build systems all over the world, including Siberia, and we should all take advantage of that.”

Miller said, once the facility is running, they are projecting about $38 million in annual economic activity, and the site will have 190 jobs created to build the facility; 65 of those jobs will continue into the management of the IMERF.

“One of the things that is meaningful as a local company is the impact that is has on our employees in the way of job creation – and because one of the big drivers for the county was to encourage local economic development, we’re really working with local companies to construct the facility, both the building as well as the equipment,” Miller said. He mentioned specifically working with Farwest Steel Corporation and Chambers Construction.

Achieving all project goals with the public private partnership between Lane County and BHS is another objective. Miller said funding was a great way to show that partnership working. 

He said the total expense of the land building system was about $135 million; Lane County would pay $35 million, and BHS would pay $100 million.

As far as project status, Lane County and BHS are currently working together on a 30% design for the facility to finalize the site location and refine cost estimates. According to public information officer Devon Ashbridge, 30% design refers to “designing the project 30% of the way. With large construction projects, some design work is necessary to get accurate cost and time estimates; however, we won’t invest funding in completing design until the project is certain to move ahead.” 

The team’s next steps regard:

• State and federal outreach for support and resources to mitigate cost impacts

• Community outreach to educate ratepayers and stakeholders on the potential changes and benefits from the IMERF

• Financing of the $70 million equipment portion by BHS through commercial sources; Lane County pursuing grants and sources for the $30 million site development and building construction

• Constructing and operating at an affordable cost to the rate payer is another team goal for this endeavor. Hurley said the team will be speaking to the Lane County board of commissioners on Nov. 28 to potentially enter into a contract with BHS and move the project forward, adding that this contract would result in an increase in garbage rates, which he called “pretty modest.”

“How many people have a Netflix account? Netflix has raised your rates $4.50 over the last four years. Most people didn’t notice that. We’re talking roughly about that equivalent,” Hurley said. “We think we’ve kept this to a pretty minimal increase.”

Orlandini said they are asking the board to increase fees by 11% each year, which would be 22% over two years, but Hurley pointed out that the county already has an annual 8% increase due to inflation – so it would actually only be an additional 3% increase.

Hurley said the facility would be in operation within about 24 months after the contract is signed.

“The commissioners, almost 50 years ago, made a wise decision to purchase what was the Oregon International Raceway at the time for a future landfill, and we’ve benefited from that for the last 50 years,” Hurley said, referring to Short Mountain. “This is a time to make another large infrastructure investment to be able to make that resource last even longer. The projections are that this could expand the life of the landfill by 20-30 years by pulling out these materials that don’t need to be in the landfill, so that’s exciting.”

If the County Commissioners vote to construct the IMERF, Lane County will finish the design. The purchase agreement is for Map and Tax Lot 18-03-23-40 Lots 101, 2401,2500, and 1400 and Map and Tax Lot 18-03-24-00, and Lot 6100, which is approximately 26.01 acres.



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