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About Appeal tribune. (Silverton, Or.) 1999-current | View Entire Issue (July 7, 2021)
WEDNESDAY, JULY 7, 2021
Covanta will no longer tell county what it’s burning
Salem Statesman Journal
USA TODAY NETWORK
A decades-long partnership between
Marion County and Covanta, which op-
erates the garbage incinerator in
Brooks, has come to an end.
County commissioners approved a
new contract with the company that
makes the incinerator an independent
It sets the terms for the new business
to take the county’s residential and
business waste for up to 13 years.
As part of the contract changes, Co-
vanta will no longer send Marion Coun-
ty detailed monthly invoices, averaging
300 pages each, that show exactly what
the burner took and from where, said
Brian May, the county’s environmental
services division director.
A Statesman Journal story published
June 27, based on those invoices,
showed Covanta is taking industrial
waste such as paint, oil and plastics
from all over the western U.S. and Cana-
The Statesman Journal obtained the
invoices through a public records re-
The Covanta Marion facility in Brooks. DAVID DAVIS AND KELLY JORDAN / STATESMAN
County commissioner Kevin Camer-
on said the new contract is a better deal
for the county.
“When I ﬁrst got here, I remember
reading the contract we had, and I went
‘Who negotiated this deal?’ It was like a
win-lose contract, for us,” he said. “This
one is a very good contract.”
It’s unclear how the changes will im-
pact the county’s bottom line, or how
they will impact residents’ garbage
rates. Speciﬁc information about ﬁ-
nances was not discussed at the meet-
ing or included in meeting materials.
Under the previous contract, ap-
proved in 2014, Marion County paid
most of the expenses of running the
burner. Those expenses included prop-
erty taxes, insurance, environmental
permitting and testing, natural gas,
phone lines, supplies and disposing of
the ash left over from burning waste.
The county also received most of the
revenue from selling electricity generat-
ed from burning garbage, and shared in
the revenue from burning out-of-coun-
ty medical and industrial waste, and
from recycling the metals found in gar-
“The county really has participated
deeply in the ﬁnancial life of that facil-
ity,” said Brian Nicholas, the county’s
public works director.
Under the new contract, Covanta will
take over the operating costs. The com-
pany will keep all of the revenue from
selling electricity and recycling metals.
It will pay the county a small fee of $5
per ton for accepting out-of-county
medical and industrial waste.
The contract requires the county to
pay Covanta $4.7 million per year to take
up to 125,000 tons of garbage per year.
That’s less than the 145,000 to
160,000 tons the county had been tak-
ing to the burner each year, meaning the
company will have more capacity to
take waste from outside the county.
That includes an expansion and up-
grade of the Marion Resource Recycling
Facility, which processes construction
and demolition debris.
The new contract is eﬀective from
July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2024. It
has an option for two ﬁve-year exten-
sions, which would take it through June
Continued from Page 2A
quire enough testing to ensure neigh-
boring communities, including Brooks,
Keizer and northeast Salem, are protect-
ed from its air emissions.
“As a person of color living in the
Northeast section of Salem, I have to
contend daily with the terrible air qual-
ity that results from this garbage burn-
er,” Pamela Vasquez told a legislative
committee last year. “I would like to
know exactly the quantity of these toxic
chemicals I am ingesting every day of
the year from this old garbage burner.”
The Oregon Department of Environ-
mental Quality requires regular tests of
the emissions coming from the facility’s
smokestack. Testing frequency varies,
depending on the pollutant. Dioxins, for
example are measured once a year.
But critics have called for more con-
tinuous and frequent monitoring. They
say, because the composition of waste
shipments varies, tests might not reﬂect
In letters to the company and state
regulators, health and environmental
groups have raised concerns about pos-
sible increased emissions of dioxins and
other dangerous toxins from burning
plastics in medical waste.
“Covanta Marion is the number one
single source of particulate matter, ni-
trous oxides, sulfur oxides, and dioxins
in Marion County, all of which are ex-
tremely harmful to human health de-
spite the facility’s conformity to overly
loose state and federal standards,” Da-
mon Motz-Storey, of Oregon Physicians
for Social Responsibility, wrote to state
lawmakers last year.
“There is no safe level of exposure for
many of these contaminants, which im-
pact farmworkers, day laborers, school
children, and all those who live, work,
and play in Marion County,” he wrote.
Covanta oﬃcials note that the facil-
ity’s emissions are less than what its
state permit allows it to emit.
However, On June 3, DEQ notiﬁed the
company that it planned to take en-
forcement action because the company
operated its emergency engine in non-
emergency situations more than is al-
lowed by its air quality permit, DEQ
spokesman Dylan Darling said.
Emergency engines are used during
involuntary power losses, Darling said.
The permit allows them to be used for
up to 50 hours per year for maintenance
and testing, in addition to power losses.
Oil, paint, plastic
The Statesman Journal requested
detailed invoices that show supplemen-
tal waste shipments sent to the Covanta
It received summary information
covering October 2018 through Septem-
ber 2019, the most recent available at the
time of the request, and detailed infor-
mation showing the types of waste in-
cinerated for ﬁve of those months.
The documents show that, during
that year, Covanta accepted about
6,000 tons of industrial waste from
businesses and organizations based in
19 Oregon counties; in California, Wash-
ington, Nevada, Utah and Georgia; and
in Ontario and British Columbia, Cana-
Types of industrial waste included:
h Oily debris and oily solids.
h Paint and rubber waste, paint-con-
taminated debris and latex paint poly
h Toner waste, waste ribbon and
scrap base ﬁlm.
h HVAC ﬁlters, polyurethane foam
packaging and peanuts, and packaging
h RCRA empty containers. The Re-
source Conservation and Recovery Act,
or RCRA, is the federal law governing the
management of hazardous waste.
The control room inside of Covanta Marion in December 2019. FILE / STATESMAN JOURNAL
h Pharmaceutical waste. The docu-
ments are not more speciﬁc.
h Industrial, manufacturing, produc-
tion and plant trash, debris and waste.
h Consumer packaged food, health
and beauty products, and raw ingredi-
h Outdated government products.
The documents are not more speciﬁc.
h Corn and soybean seed, food trash,
and vegetative waste.
h Conﬁdential material. The docu-
ments are not more speciﬁc.
h Class A Protocol. That’s non-haz-
ardous consumer items in original pack-
aging, such as food and pharmaceuti-
cals and might include recalled prod-
h International Waste. That’s the gal-
ley trash from cruise ships and ﬂights.
The waste came from 49 companies,
including American Petroleum, Boeing,
Epson, Genentech, Hewlett-Packard,
Xerox, Syngenta Seeds, Sonoco Recy-
cling, West Coast Marine, Nordstrom
and Paciﬁc Foods of Oregon.
It also came from 20 state and federal
agencies, including the FBI, U.S. Cus-
toms, the Port of Portland and the Ore-
gon State Lottery.
And dozens of law enforcement
agencies throughout Oregon and South-
west Washington use the facility to de-
stroy weapons, drugs, documents and
evidence no longer needed by the
courts, the documents show.
Covanta charges law enforcement
agencies a reduced fee for evidence de-
struction and provides prescription
drug destruction for free, Jason Myers,
of the Oregon State Sheriﬀ ’s Associa-
tion, told a legislative committee last
year. Law enforcement agencies collect
the drugs during community safe dis-
During the year covered by the docu-
ments, Covanta brought in about $1 mil-
lion from industrial waste, while the
county earned about $240,000, the
Growing revenue source
The county’s contract with Covanta
allows the company to seek out and
make deals with companies to take their
waste without the county’s approval.
The contract does not specify or restrict
A contract extension in September
2019 changed the way Marion County
shares the revenue from supplemental
waste. Now, the more supplemental
waste the facility processes, the more
money the county makes.
The county previously received half
of the revenue, up to a cap of 2,500 tons
per year. Covanta kept all the revenue
for amounts over 2,500 tons per year. It
has averaged around 6,000 tons per
Now, the county receives a ﬁxed rate
of $100 per ton, up to a cap of 7,000 tons
per year. Above that cap, the county re-
ceives $150 per ton.
That more than doubled the amount
of money the county received from
burning supplemental waste.
The county got $230,977 during the
2018-19 ﬁscal year when Covanta
burned 6,185 tons of supplemental
That increased to $559,623 during
the 2019-20 ﬁscal year when Covanta
burned 5,570 tons of supplemental
Clean Air Now coalition members
said they worry that, as expiring federal
energy subsidies make municipal waste
incinerators less proﬁtable nationwide,
the incinerator will grow into a regional
destination for more lucrative special
Covanta oﬃcials told the Statesman
Journal they have no plans to do that.
But it would be allowed under the com-
pany’s current pollution permits issued
by the Oregon Department of Environ-
The permits allow Covanta to burn,
among other things, hazardous wastes
from small-quantity generators, illicit
drugs, pharmaceutical wastes, sewage
sludge and discarded or useless com-
mercial and industrial materials.
The state gets yearly reports about
what is being burned at the facility, but
they don’t include a detailed analysis,
DEQ spokesman Darling said. For in-
dustrial and special wastes, Covanta re-
ports only the total tons and general
type of wastes burned.
The incinerator’s future has been in
question since July 2019, when a bill re-
quested by Covanta that would have
designated trash incineration as renew-
able energy did not pass in the Oregon
The proposal would have allowed the
company to sell electricity at a higher
A similar bill failed in the 2020 Legis-
At the time, Covanta and county oﬃ-
cials said without the revenue from the
energy credits, the plant would have to
close or local garbage rates would dou-
Neither of those things has hap-
Tracy Loew is a reporter at the
Statesman Journal. She can be reached
at email@example.com, 503-
399-6779 or Twitter at @Tracy_Loew.
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