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$12 million job is nearly paid for

The newly created Prairie Lakes Municipal Solid Waste Authority will hold its first official meeting next Wednesday, March 31 in Perham.

Officials from Becker, Otter Tail, Todd and Wadena counties signed the joint powers agreement to create the organization earlier this year.

The purpose of the agreement was to allow the four counties to take part in the joint ownership and operation of the Perham Resource Recovery Facility (the incinerator plant) as well as other cooperative solid waste management efforts.

Besides electing officers and enacting bylaws, the incinerator plant expansion will also be on the agenda for next Wednesday's meeting, according to Steve Skoog, Becker county environmental services officer.

The project was given a major boost by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last week, when he opted not to axe $5.07 million appropriated to the incinerator project from the 2010 state bonding bill.

Pawlenty eliminated several projects from the bill by line item veto -- but a last minute call placed by the governor to State Rep. Mark Murdock to discuss the project may have saved it from a similar fate.

A Becker County request for state funding to move ahead with construction of a new solid waste transfer station did not get a similar reprieve, however.

"The governor vetoed the transfer station funding," Skoog informed Becker County commissioners at Tuesday's county board meeting.

That means the county must come up with the funds from its own reserves if it wants to continue with plans to upgrade the transfer station, Skoog noted in an interview later that afternoon.

The problem is that the county's current transfer station is of insufficient size, and does not meet current state requirements.

"It's an obsolete building by today's standards," Skoog said, noting that there is "more waste going through (the transfer station) than we're permitted to handle."

Despite the fact that the county's bonding request was vetoed, however, Skoog said, "all in all, I think Becker County did well."

Incinerator will become regional facility

The Perham incinerator expansion will be a very positive move toward handling not only Becker County's future solid waste disposal needs, but those of the entire region, Skoog said.

"It (the state appropriation) won't fund the whole project, but it goes a long way," Skoog said.

Besides the $5 million bonding bill appropriation, there will also be funding from a $2.8 million Minnesota Pollution Control Agency grant that has been on hold for nearly three years.

The entire project is expected to cost more than $12 million, according to a story that ran in last week's East Otter Tail Focus.

According to Skoog, the expansion will include the construction of a second boiler inside the incinerator plant. Currently, there are two disposal chambers feeding a single boiler; the addition of a second boiler will allow the chambers to be separated and the waste streams fed into them to be increased.

"The chambers were designed to handle more capacity," Skoog explained.

Currently, the facility processes 30,000 tons of waste a year; with the addition of a second boiler, that capacity can be increased to 52,000 tons a year.

The expansion also includes the addition of a MRF at the incinerator site that will not only screen out recyclables, but also remove any materials from the waste stream that could not be safely incinerated, Skoog noted.

"So there will be less down time for maintenance (of the incinerators)," he explained.

The expansion will mean that nearly all of the solid waste from the four counties will be incinerated in Perham, Skoog noted.

Its capacity will actually be large enough to handle solid waste from other counties as well.

Also, the fact that the incinerator recycles waste in the form of steam energy means that it can sell the energy generated as a commodity.

According to the EOT Focus, Bongard's Creameries and Tuffy's Pet Foods buy as much as 26 million pounds of steam a month from the Perham facility -- and are projected to purchase more when the plant is expanded.

Despite this, Skoog noted, the facility is not intended to be a profit-making operation: Its primary purpose is for the disposal of solid waste.

Recycling grant?

Becker County has also received another little bit of good news, as Skoog informed the commissioners Tuesday.

The county's application for an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant to replace its rural recycling sheds with larger recycling containers has been placed on the "short list" for approval.

What that means, Skoog said, is that the state has intent to fund at least a portion of the county's proposal.

The county has applied for $100,000 in state grant funding to offset the overall estimated project cost of $226,000.

Once the grant is approved, the commissioners will have to weigh whether the overall amount of the grant is sufficient to warrant the additional investment needed, Skoog noted.

(East Otter Tail Focus writer Louis Hoglund contributed some background information for this story.)

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