New permit aims to regulate WestRock Recycling

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Neighbors hope new regulations will help reduce issues they’ve been dealing with at a recycling operation in Southeast Portland.

City records show neighbors have complained for years about WestRock Recycling off SE Foster Road and 101st. 

Vance Dutton has lived in his house since 1984 and for years has put up with the noise, mess and even fires across the street.

“They showed up in 1993 and it was contained to just inside the building then,” he told KOIN in November.

At the time, Dutton and his neighbor, Tuesday Dorr, shared photos of a growing mess of cardboard spilling onto the sidewalk, plastic strewn across the street and video that captured the sound of machinery noise heard day and night.

Neighbors hoped Metro, the government agency that has jurisdiction over recycling in the Portland area, would step in. The problem was Metro didn’t have extensive rules to regulate operations like this.

That changed on January 1. 

Metro granted WestRock and five other local recycling centers permits, which set standards for operations.

“We heard a lot of concerns from the community about WestRock, more so than we heard from any other facility,” Ken Ray at Metro said.

More concerns meant WestRock’s permit came with a catch. While other facilities got five year permits, WestRock’s is only for six months.

“… the permit that they now have set some conditions for how they’re to operate,” Ray said. “We expect them to fulfill those conditions during the next six month period and we do regular inspections of the facility, most of them unannounced. We’ll show up and say, ‘OK how are things looking right now?'”

Neighbors said they’ve already seen improvements.

“We’ll take anything that just helps the neighborhood,” Dutton said. 

In November, Westrock did not respond to KOIN’s requests for an interview. This time, the director of corporate communications for the Georgia-based company responded in an email.

“Over the past year, we have implemented a number of enhancements to respond to neighbor’s concerns, including increased street sweeping and adjusting delivery schedules,” John Pensec said. “We have also begun installing noise-dampening material around our loading dock.”

Pensec also said they will install a new fence between the recycling center and some of the homes to cut noise and improve aesthetics, once the city approves a building permit. 

“We will continue to work with Portland Metro and the community to ensure that our facility remains compliant and sustainable,” Pensec said.

Metro said it wants WestRock to succeed because it is an important part of the regional recycling system. 

Managers at WestRock have not responded to KOIN’s inquiry about what they’re doing differently. 

Metro said they want WestRock to succeed because it’s important to the regional recycling system. 

“Maybe Metro sees a little bit of change in them and is giving them another six months, that’s fine as long as we see improvement, you know, I’m OK with that,” Dutton said. “We’ve been battling it so long that what’s another six months?”

The public will get a chance to weigh in on how things are going this spring. Metro said even if ​​​​ WestRock fails to meet expectations, it’s likely the company will get another permit in six months. Metro said ironing out issues will be a work in progress.



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