Covanta Marion, rural broadband and In-N-Out Burger were all topics at the State of the County address by Marion County commissioners Wednesday before a crowd of Strategic Economic Development Corp. members.

The commissioners focused much of their time on the fate of the waste-to-energy plant in Brooks, which they are hoping will be deemed a renewable energy source during the current legislative session. County officials told the Salem Reporter in August that being approved for renewable energy certificates would allow the owner to earn an estimated $5 million more per year, money that the company said it needs to maintain the incinerator.

Commissioner Kevin Cameron said getting renewable energy credits for the trash burner was among four legislative priorities for the county. The others are community corrections funding, free childcare in the courthouse and modifying the circumstances to send mentally ill people unable to stand trial to the Oregon State Hospital.

During a question period, Sydney Levin said that after visiting the Covanta facility she worried about fallout from dioxin, a highly toxic chemical. She asked if the county had studied carbon sequestration.

Cameron said there’s good information about carbon sequestration, like what you learn in elementary school about growing trees to capture CO2.

He said methane emitted in a landfill can’t be measured and methane is 30 to 90 times more potent than carbon coming out of the garbage burner.

“We know what’s going in and we know what’s going out,” Cameron said.

He said people need to reduce the materials they consume, suggesting as an example buying spices in bulk instead of smaller containers.

Cameron said one of the main developments in the county last year was the opening of In-N-Out Burger in Keizer.

He said his father, who was in the audience Wednesday, attended the opening of the first burger location in Baldwin Park, California in 1948. He said his father also attended the opening of the Keizer location in December.  

During their speeches, commissioners each cited the need to expand broadband internet to rural parts of the county.

Commissioner Colm Willis said Marion County is one of the best places to live in the country. He said a recent survey showed eight out of 10 residents were satisfied with county government.

Willis said the county added 30,000 jobs in the last decade and many residents are under 40.

“We have jobs for our young families,” he said. “But all this has put pressure on our housing prices.”

He said the county started the Marion County Housing Initiative to address barriers to private development of housing.

Commissioner Sam Brentano said he considers the failure to build a third bridge across the Willamette River the “biggest loss of his political career.”

“I still haven’t gotten over it,” he said. He is retiring after his current term.

Brentano also talked about creating safety corridors to limit the speed from Newberg to Interstate 5 to 45 mph so the area’s residents would opt to take Highway 99 instead.

Most of Brentano’s time was spent complaining about the state Department of Land Conservation and Development, a land use planning agency which he likened to a dictatorship.

He said the state agency’s goal is to “cram as many rats as they can in one space and tell them they’re happy.”

“I just resent it very much,” Brentano said.

He said state officials wanted the county to adopt a plan that would remove a quarter of the drivers coming through Salem and Keizer.

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