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Area counties meet again about joining Perham incinerator group

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Area counties meet again about joining Perham incinerator group
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PERHAM - The possibility of a regional solid waste collaboration, including the expansion of the Perham incinerator, was the topic of a meeting of Wadena, Otter Tail, Hubbard, Todd, Clay and Becker Counties and the city of Perham last Wednesday.

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The Perham Resource and Recovery Facility needs more participating counties to accept a $2.8 million grant for an expansion. Landfills, recycling and other waste issues are other possible areas for collaboration.

Four counties, Otter Tail, Wadena, Todd and Stearns, currently deliver waste to Perham, said Otter Tail Solid Waste Director Mike Hanan. Stearns County has said it intends to leave in September. The other counties can continue to provide waste without the expansion but not with it, Hanan said.

Otter Tail and Wadena counties have also met to talk about how they can do things better for their own solid waste programs, he said. The potential for an incinerator expansion seemed like a good time to sit down and re-explore that regional concept.

"Now's the time to look at can we do more together than we do now," Hanan said.

All of the counties have good things happening in their solid waste programs, he said, but there are probably some economics of scale that would help the counties save some money.

Todd County sees the expansion as making the PRRF a better facility, said Tim Cadwallader, the county's solid waste administrator. He's talked to his commissioners and they seem favorable to the idea of some sort of a regional setup if that works better for the whole group.

"I think we're all in," he said.

Steve Skoog, environmental services administrator, said Becker County is interested in an expansion since the incinerator is so close by and would provide a stable endpoint for their solid waste. Collaborating as a larger group with recycling would also make their material more marketable, he said.

While Becker County representatives expressed interest in the expansion, the discussion wasn't quite what they planned.

Commissioner Harry Salminen was hearing a lot of abstract ideas and possibilities, he said.

"I was hoping that when I left here I was going to have something ... that I could take home and put my teeth into and look at numbers," he said.

Salminen would like some "nuts and bolts," he said.

Otter Tail Commissioner Doug Huebsch said he likes numbers too and is willing to be on a small group committee.

"We're that group that has to formulate those numbers," he said.

Clay County would like to be partners, said Commissioner Kevin Campbell, but it still needs to know what its own facility will be able to handle and to receive a permit. Until then Clay County is in no position to be able to commit to anything, he said.

Solid Waste Administrator Vern Massie said Hubbard County was involved with the incinerator at day one, stayed with the contract for 10 years and then sought other options.

"I guess we've never really closed any doors," he said. "We're still very interested in technology, new things that are happening."

They know land filling is not the future, he said.

Hubbard County Commissioner Lyle Robinson offered up a word of caution about investing in a facility and then having the state change standards it has to meet. In his more than 22 years in office he's learned that flexibility is important, he said.

"Unless we all have a lot of things in common this great regional idea isn't going to work," Robinson said.

Wadena and Otter Tail counties' solid waste departments had a positive experience collaborating when Wadena County's transfer station was closed in March due to personnel issues. Two employees were placed on leave and the county was left with one part-time employee who had been on the job for only five weeks prior to the closing.

Having an experienced Otter Tail County employee work in Wadena County really helped the county during a difficult time, said Mike Gibson, a consultant who is overseeing the reorganization of Wadena County Solid Waste.

This is a good time for counties to get together and see what they can possibly share, he said. The governor favors regional collaborations. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency already extended the $2.8 million incinerator grant from its June deadline until the end of the year because of the talk of working together, Gibson said. A regional solid waste collaboration may be an opportunity to attract state and even national attention, which could lead to dollars.

"This is a profound meeting you're having today," he said. "It's in your hands."

The group didn't form an official committee to further study the issue, but several representatives suggested Otter Tail County was best poised to take the lead.

Huebsch suggested Otter Tail County put together an outline with the help of Denny Hanselman of the MPCA and solid waste directors could weigh in with some specifics.

"Five and half months isn't a long time so we're going to have to move," Huebsch said about the grant deadline.

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