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$2 million for recycling center, County set to get bonding money

If all the political stars align -- and it's looking good so far -- Becker County could receive several million dollars in state bonding money to go towards a new transfer station and recycling center.

A Minnesota House bonding bill includes nearly $2 million for the Becker County project.

And the governor supports it -- a $2.3 million request from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for the Becker County project remains in play.

The Senate bonding bill has yet to make an appearance, but Becker County Environmental Services Director Steve Skoog says that version also appears to have bipartisan support -- from DFLers Keith Langseth and Rod Skoe and Republicans Gretchen Hoffman and Dave Senjem, among others.

Senjem is Senate majority leader and chairs the Senate bonding committee, where Langseth has also long been influential.

DFLer Kent Eken, who represented most of Becker County prior to redistricting, was instrumental in getting the funding into the House bonding bill at the end of the session last year.

"Because it was in the first year of the biennium, it carried over into the second year of the biennium," Skoog said.

Becker County has committed to shipping its garbage to a solid waste incinerator in Perham, which is being extensively upgraded over the next few years.

The new Becker County transfer station and recycling center are part of that process: The transfer station is expected to cost about $2.5 million and will be 99-foot by 165-foot, much bigger than the existing 30-foot-by-70-foot transfer station.

The new transfer station will be divided into a smaller space for a residential drive-through lane, with bins inside for people to dump their trash and recyclables.

The other side will be a larger space for commercial trucks, which will dump their loads on the floor for sorting.

Burnable garbage will go to the incinerator, while nonburnable items like tires and sofas will go to a landfill or be recycled.

"I would like to have the transfer station done before the facility is done in Perham ... We can't separate and sort prior to shipping at the existing facilities," Skoog said. "At the new one we can dump on the floor and separate by machine. That's why we need a transfer station -- to sort and clean up prior to shipping to Perham."

The bigger building will also provide some "surge capacity," or garbage storage, to help even out the flow to the incinerator.

"We have a real seasonal flow of waste -- there is a lot on the weekends, especially in the summertime. It helps to have surge capacity," Skoog said.

The transfer station has been designed and is now "shovel-ready," Skoog said. He'd like to see it get built first and then as it nears completion see work start on the recycling center, which would actually be a small material recovery facility (MERF).

"It would be a place to bring stuff, sort it, get it ready for marketing," Skoog said.

Clay County has written a letter of support for bonding money for Becker County's recycling center.

Becker County could expand its recycling program -- with the big blue metal bins -- into eastern Clay County and perhaps portions of other neighboring counties, like Otter Tail and Wadena, "if it's close by and makes economic sense to do it," Skoog said.

The recycling center hasn't yet been designed, so Skoog is not sure of its total estimated cost.

"It depends on what the community wants," he said. When it comes to curbside pickup in Detroit Lakes, for example, it's more expensive to sort mixed recyclables in a MERF than it would be to process those presorted by residents.

On the other hand, the easier it is to recycle, the more recycling people will do -- and the county wants to recycle as much of its 16,000 tons of garbage a year as possible.

The county now processes about 1,000 tons of recyclables a year, and that is expected to increase to 1,200 to 1,500 tons per year with the ongoing improvements to the county's recycling program, such as the popular blue bins.

The recycling center will likely involve a conveyor belt, a pick line and employees from the Becker County Workshop doing the sorting.

The goal is to do more recycling, employ disabled folk and have the processing center pay for itself, Skoog said.

He is optimistic about the bonding bill, but not over-confident. After all, the project has made it through the legislative bonding process a few years ago -- only to see the funding axed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty in a line-item veto.

"I'm learning," Skoog said with a smile. "I have to count to three instead of two."