Egregious, illegal dump site on farmland thwarted

By Ben Williams and Samuel Diaz | 3.5-minute read

Welcome to French Prairie, a region stretching across Marion County through Oregon’s agricultural heartland and home to some of the highest-quality farmland in the continental United States – so agriculturally important that it’s been designated as “foundation agricultural land” by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Farmers and farmworkers steward these soils and sustainably manage some of the most plentiful underground aquifers in the state. 

And yet, in late 2023, large vacuum trucks seen at utility construction sites were hauling load after load of unknown liquids into an open-pit dump on farmland north of the town of Donald. Someone had dammed a tributary of Ryan Creek, which flows into the Willamette River, and welcomed trucks contracted mainly by PGE and NW Natural to dispose of materials there.  More came every day. By the time operations stopped – thanks to intervention from a concerned farmer, who alerted Friends of French Prairie (one of our local land use affiliates), who reached out to us – more than 300 loads of potentially hazardous material had been dropped into this pristine ecosystem.

An aerial view of a truck dumping unknown liquid into the dump site on French Prairie farmland.
A truck dumps unknown material into the dump site on French Prairie farmland. Photo by Scott Chambers.

It’s hard to imagine how an operation like this could ever be allowed in Oregon (today, at least) with our strong values to protect farmland and our environment, and a land use system that guides it all. And it wasn’t – the operation did not have a permit from Marion County, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), or Water Resources Department (WRD). 

Upon learning of the illegal dump site, farmers and concerned community members raised questions and pressured regulators and utilities into action to, first, stop the dumping as soon as possible, while we pushed regulators to also investigate. Friends of French Prairie worked alongside their neighbors, filing formal complaints with Marion County, DEQ, and WRD.

A November site visit from Marion County officials resulted in the property owner being notified their operation was an illegal dump site. Then the code violations started stacking up: DEQ, handling Oregon’s solid and liquid waste codes, eventually issued four Class I and two Class II violations. WRD then hit the property owner and dump site operator with violations for constructing a dam and holding water without a permit.

Ryan Creek meanders toward the Willamette River. At the top of the image is the paved area where trucks parked to dump unknown materials.
Ryan Creek meanders toward the Willamette River. At the top of the image is the paved area where trucks parked to dump unknown materials. Photo by Scott Chambers.

At the same time, 1000 Friends of Oregon alerted our business partners PGE and NW Natural to the situation. As soon as they read the formal complaints and learned of the operation’s illegality and multiple violations, PGE and NW Natural called on their drivers and contractors to immediately cease using the site. As a result of all this pressure, the operation “voluntarily” closed, but the owner is seeking to comply with state agencies so that the dumping can continue in the middle of our most fertile agricultural land.

This eye-opening violation of Oregon’s land use protections and environmental laws is a timely reminder of why we have those laws. Earth Day celebrates the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to tackle environmental problems, honor the planet’s environment, and raise public awareness about pollution. As we commemorate this throughout the month of April, we also remember wise words from our cofounder, Governor Tom McCall, who charged us with the work of protecting the state’s farm and forest lands: “The interests of Oregon for today and in the future must be protected from the grasping wastrels of the land.” 

Liquid of an unnatural green fills the pit that sits next to actively farmed orchards
Liquid of an unnatural green fills the pit that sits next to actively farmed orchards. Photo by Scott Chambers.

Because Oregon has strong landuse and environment laws, we and our affiliate Friends of French Prairie had the tools to shut down this egregious degradation of our precious working lands and ecosystem, PGE and NW Natural knew how to react, and county and state agencies likewise responded to cite this operation and its outrageous violation. 

One of our newest board members, Ben Williams of Friends of French Prairie, reflects, “It is hard to imagine that anything like this prompt response could have happened in states without strong land use and environmental laws, or the Oregon ethos.”


You may have noticed that 1000 Friends of Oregon is not participating in this year’s official Earth Day Oregon campaign. That decision came after learning that Intel would be the lead sponsor for the campaign. At this time, while we cannot participate in a campaign being funded by Intel, we continue to applaud and support the good work of all the nonprofits that are part of that campaign. You can directly support 1000 Friends of Oregon this Earth Month and always at