Grounds for exploration: Improving greater Portland’s garbage and recycling services

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If you’ve driven down North Fourth Avenue in Cornelius in the last few weeks, you may have seen the random tractor or drilling rig at work in an open field north of Walmart.

Workers on the property have dug test pits, bored narrow holes to depths of up to 100 feet and performed water filtration tests. The aim is to unearth and analyze soil structure.

That’s because Metro is considering the 12.5-acre location as a possible site for a new recycling and transfer center.

Transfer centers are places that receive loads of waste from commercial garbage trucks as well as the general public.  Workers there consolidate the materials and send them along in larger shipments to their final destinations – either a landfill or another sorting facility.

A worker wearing a reflective vest and hardhat walks near a line of trucks waiting to enter a large industrial building

Vehicles line up to drop off waste materials outside Metro South transfer station in Oregon City.

Many transfer centers offer a place to drop off recycling and reusable materials as well as a way to safely dispose of household hazardous waste. Often transfer centers are one of the few places for the public to access these services.

According to Matt Tracy, project manager at Metro, the Cornelius site holds much promise. “These opportunities don’t come along very often,” he says. “But we intend for community to tell us whether or not it’s a good fit.”

By the end of this year, the Metro council is expected to decide whether or not to purchase the Cornelius property.

Responding to growth

By 2040, Metro projects that more than 500,000 additional people will be living in greater Portland. This will translate into millions of tons of additional waste each year.

And Metro is responsible for ensuring that all of this waste is managed in way that protects the health and safety of people and the environment.

“Every other county in the region has a [Metro] transfer station,” says Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González, who was raised in Cornelius, and is now the elected representative for the area. He believes that having one in Washington County could be a major step in achieving our regional goals.

A community advisory group of 12 members began virtual meetings this week – to learn more about the existing garbage and recycling system and to share their thoughts about the proposed location of the new transfer station.

Group members range in age from 17 to 80. Most live within a mile or two of the proposed site.

Doris González Gómez is one of them. An environmental coordinator at Epson, she has lived in Cornelius for 15 years. She says that one reason she joined the group is to be a voice for minimizing environmental impact.

“It’s really important to be involved in my community and take a more active role in how Cornelius is changing,” González Gómez says. “I’m just really excited to see whether or not this will benefit our community.”

Historically, communities of color, immigrants and people with low incomes have seen little of the economic benefits that the garbage and recycling system generates. They’ve also had little say about system decisions directly impacting their lives.

More recently, Metro has been working to change this – by smoothing the way for more meaningful civic engagement for youth and other historically marginalized community members.

Screen shot from zoom meeting with Mariana Valenzuela Figueroa, director of community partnerships and advocacy for Centro Cultural

Mariana Valenzuela Figueroa, of Centro Cultural, participates in a recent zoom meeting with members of Metro's community advisory group. They are tasked with considering a proposed site for a new recycling and transfer center.

Metro is partnering with Centro Cultural de Washington County to support the work of the community advisory group and the group’s immediate goal of weighing in on the site criteria.

“Metro is our most important partner,” says Mariana Valenzuela Figueroa, director of community partnerships and advocacy for Centro Cultural. She adds that she has appreciated the opportunity to bring community members into conversations with Metro around a number of projects over the years.

And she looks forward to continuing that work.

“We have a very diverse group with a good component of leadership,” Figueroa says. “They can bring concerns and questions of the community back to Metro.”



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