Weather Forecast


Letter: Becker County: Don't send your garbage to Perham

Garbage! What to do with it? The city of Perham has an idea for Becker County. Load it up and bring it to the 20-year-old garbage burner in downtown Perham.

Perham wants to double the capacity of the burner from 118 tons per day to 200 tons. But why do they need Becker County, you might ask? Because the four counties presently bringing garbage to the Perham burner (Todd, Wadena, Stearns, and Ottertail) don't have enough to justify expanding.

Perham would also like the residents of Becker County to share the debt -- $9.1 million for past development and $8.7 million for the expansion.

We expect Perham and the counties presently involved would also like you to share any maintenance cost or fines that might occur in the future.

When the Perham burner was constructed in the late 1980s, we believe the builder should have been required to complete an environmental review and a baseline health study before getting the necessary permits. From what we have been able to determine, neither study was done then or ever.

Burning garbage is a corrosive process. It's hard on the equipment and since the fuel is constantly changing, it's hard to predict how long parts will last.

Burning garbage also produces many dangerous pollutants. Some are tested for and regulated, some are not. The Perham burner has failed pollutant tests several times particularly for hydrochloric acid (HCL) and mercury (Hg).

HCL causes various respiratory problems and lung damage and mercury damages the central nervous system of humans. You are likely aware of the mercury advisories for fish in Minnesota lakes. Dioxin, one of the most hazardous materials known is a product of garbage incineration.

Building garbage burners was all the rage 15-20 years ago. County officials seemed to be sold on the idea of "out of sight, out of mind."

More recently, many burners have been shut down and few new ones have been proposed. Burner advocates say we don't have a clue -- the Perham Burner is terrific now and new expansion will make it state of the art: No hazardous emissions, no particulate laden smoke, no problems.

Who's kidding who? Then there's the question of the ash left over from the burning -- 25 percent or more of the original tonnage of garbage. The ash is land filled and needs to be monitored.

Apparently these proponents also believe that nothing needs to be done to reduce the volume of garbage, to increase recycling, reuse or composting of the waste stream, and that demanding less packaging, a bottle deposit requirement, etcetera would be pie in the sky fantasy.

Many cities and counties around the country have significantly reduced their waste tonnage. For example, Martin County has achieved a 70 percent reduction rate.

So, do you want to see your county enter into a variable mortgage rate scam to expand the Perham garbage burner? That is, signing up to pay for unknown health hazards and unpredictable expensive repairs, etc.

Or would developing programs to reduce, reuse and recycle be a better idea? We believe the future in the garbage business is reducing volume, working toward "zero waste" or getting as close as possible.

Decisions are being made now. Contact your county officials and let them know what you think. If they tell you burning is the only answer, that land filling is worse and significant waste reduction isn't possible, don't buy it. Check the websites: and

-- Colleen Donley, Perham

(Donley wrote this letter on behalf of Neighbors Against the Burner. It was also signed by Robert Lohman of Motley on behalf of Preserve our Land)