Meandering through the sagebrush and juniper trails at the Stevens Road Tract in southeast Bend, a hiker might never suspect they are walking over acres of buried trash.
Decades-old tires, building materials containing asbestos and household trash fill in former holes and collapsed lava tubes on about 40 acres of the newly planned 382-acre mixed-use housing and commercial development called Stevens Ranch. And soon, much of that trash will be cleaned up and either recycled or deposited in a modern landfill that’s built to protect people and wildlife from trash and the pollution it can create.
Left photo shows clean soil that’s sifted out from the former landfill. Right photo shows the leftover trash.
The area operated as a landfill from at least the 1950s, before regulations existed to govern trash disposal. There are four caves made from collapsed lava tubes within the former landfill area. The trash has been piled up so high over the years, it blocks some of the cave entrances.
“You’d literally have to climb over buried waste to get into some of the caves,” said Toby Scott, a project manager at the contracting firm PBS Engineering and Environmental. “When we conducted exploratory test pits, you could read the old newspapers that were thrown away out here—I even saw one from the Vietnam War. There’s so little moisture here in the high desert, there’s very little degradation.”
With DEQ oversight, Scott and his PBS team are digging up and sifting out the garbage from the soil. Trash suspected of containing harmful asbestos, sometimes found in old roofing and flooring materials, is tested and packaged for safe disposal at the nearby Knott Landfill. Tires and metals are separated out for recycling. The soil is tested for contaminants and structural integrity, and if it makes the cut, will be used to backfill the deepest part of excavations to level the ground prior to construction.
In the next several years, if all goes as planned, this former landfill and its surrounding area will host homes, schools, parks and commercial centers.
“This type of project is what DEQ’s cleanup program is all about,” said David Anderson, cleanup program manager for DEQ’s Eastern Region. “It’s a cool project, one that turns an old, formerly unregulated landfill into clean, buildable land.”
Learn more about the cleanup efforts on DEQ’s Environmental Cleanup Site Information Database.
– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist