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County has until June to decide on incinerator

To burn or not to burn -- that's the question looming on the minds of Becker County commissioners this month.

On Tuesday, the county board met with representatives from the City of Perham, Otter Tail County, Todd County and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to discuss plans for a proposed $10 million expansion of Perham's solid waste incinerator.

An invitation has been extended to Becker County to become a joint powers partner in the expansion project -- but as the commissioners learned Tuesday, that expansion would most likely require the addition of at least one more county (besides Becker) in order to meet the need for more garbage.

As Perham City Administrator Kelcey Klemm explained, Perham currently owns the incinerator facility. It has contracted with the counties of Otter Tail, Todd and Wadena, as well as Tri-County Solid Waste in Stearns County, to supply the 32,000 tons of solid waste necessary to fuel the incinerator annually.

Recently, Stearns County has indicated its intention of pulling out of the agreement and sending its garbage elsewhere, Klemm noted. Otter Tail County has agreed to increase its contract to provide 21,000 tons of MSW (municipal solid waste) to the incinerator each year. This is the maximum that the county can supply to the facility, Klemm noted.

The other two counties that contract with the Perham facility are also "tapped out" as far as increasing their supply, so if the expansion goes forward, other counties would need to be brought in to supply garbage as well.

"Our hurdle (toward expansion) is finding partners," Klemm said. "We need 20,000 more tons of garbage."

Steve Skoog, director of Becker County Environmental Services, noted that Becker County currently produces about 18,000 tons of MSW per year.

Even if the county were to send all of its garbage to Perham, that would still leave the facility a little short of its goal.

"We need one more partner in addition to Becker (County)," Klemm said.

One possibility that is of particular interest to Becker County is the addition of a materials recovery facility (MRF), which would presort the recyclable materials out of the solid waste stream before sending it to the incinerator.

Klemm said they had considered the addition of a MRF a few years ago, but the $5 million cost didn't seem feasible given the small amount of waste that would be removed.

However, with the expansion, the addition of a MRF is being discussed again.

In fact, Klemm noted, one of the options being discussed would be to add a MRF to the existing facility, and hold off on the expansion.

Becker County Administrator Brian Berg asked Duane Hanselman of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency if the state would be more likely to fund an expansion or a MRF addition in the future.

"I would say either one would be about the same (chance of being funded)," Hanselman said. "We have funded both, and they are weighed about the same (in importance)."

Berg also asked why the state is so favorably disposed toward the use of solid waste incinerators as an alternative to landfills.

In addition to the fact that it turns waste into an energy resource (steam energy is a byproduct of the incineration process), but the emissions from a waste incinerator are "very regulated" to remove pollutants, he said.

Also, the ash produced by the incinerator is "much easier to manage than regular garbage," Hanselman added.

One of the reasons why Otter Tail County has given Becker a June deadline for signing on to the project is that a state Capital Assistance Program (CAP) grant that was provided to Otter Tail County for the expansion runs out on June 30.

Though the joint powers agreement would not be in place by that date, Klemm said, it would at least show the state "that we're serious" about moving ahead with the project.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454