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Big changes coming to county transfer station

Driver Todd Helliksen picks up a load of plastics at the Becker County Fairground recycling containers Monday morning. Recycling in Becker County has increased 3 percent from last year, according to Environmental Services Director Steve Skoog. BRIAN BASHAM/DL NEWSPAPERS1 / 2
Piles of recyclables line the parking lot of the Becker County Recycling Center after the Fourth of July holiday this past summer. SUBMITTED PHOTO2 / 2

Some big changes are about to happen at the Becker County Transfer Station and Demolition Landfill.

“We are doing everything we can with what we have,” Environmental Services Director Steve Skoog said.

But what the county has needs to be expanded to bring more services to the county, and more efficiently.

Nearly everything brought to the transfer station and landfill is shipped to another location for sale, and most are sold in Minnesota or Fargo. All of the recycling — plastics, cardboard, paper, glass, aluminum, etc. — is sold and shipped to various places throughout the state. Any metal brought in is also sold. Asphalt shingles are sold to asphalt companies to be ground up and melted for roads.

“We’re not a landfill. It’s a waste processing facility,” Skoog said.

The only thing that stays at the site is demolition materials that can’t be recycled in any way shape or form. Those are buried in cells, large holes in the ground.

Physical changes

First off, the entrance to the transfer station will be moved just down from its existing location, which is three miles north of Detroit Lakes on Highway 59 and half a mile west on County Road 144.

The public and commercial garbage haulers bringing waste to the landfill will drive up to a larger transfer station that will include a vehicle scale for large trucks to simply drive onto to measure loads.

It will be located near the existing facility.

Everything brought into the transfer station will be dumped there to cut down on the public driving around the demolition landfill, which is the practice now. That, Skoog said, is a big liability issue.

Once the waste is dropped at the transfer station, vehicles will exit the site where the entrance now sits, and there will be a small building by the exit where they will pay for what they dropped off.

The site will also host a new recycling facility. This isn’t a facility for the public, but rather a much larger building for workers to sort and package recycling for shipping to other locations where the products are sold. 

In the future, Skoog said he’d like to be able to figure out a spot to process organics at the transfer station site as well.

Funding the project

Last week, the county board awarded a bid for earthwork for multiple aspects of the transfer station area.

A hill at the transfer station is being cut down and used to fill in an area where a new, expanded transfer station will be located.

The $284,000 dirt work contract to the lowest of four bidders (Landwehr Construction Inc. of St. Cloud) also includes digging a new cell for the demolition products that stay onsite.

It’s the work after that that the county is hoping the state recognizes and supports financially.

The county has been rejected for state bonding money the last couple years, but Skoog said he feels this year is the county’s best chance of being accepted.

It came closest in 2010, when it cleared the Legislature, only to fall to a line item veto by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It is now believed to have the support of all legislators serving the Becker County area.

The county is asking the state for nearly $2.5 million.

The plan includes construction of the new transfer station and a MRF, or “murf,” a materials recovery facility that receives, separates and prepares recyclable materials for manufacturers.

The so-called “dirty MRF” accepts a mixed solid waste stream and then separates out designated recyclable materials through manual and mechanical sorting.

Funding for the MRF and transfer station are lumped into one request from the state, so if the county gets one request, it gets them both.

Through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Capital Assistance Program, the county would also be eligible for cost share up to 75 percent on the transfer station construction project and 50 percent of the MRF project.

The estimated cost of the transfer station is $2 million, and the estimated cost for the MRF is $1 million. Along with some other costs to get the facilities up and running, the total project cost is estimated at $3.9 million.

“If we can get this built, I think we will have a fairly complete facility,” Skoog said.

Helpful workers

Helping with the sorting of the recycling materials are Institution Community Work Crew members. Those crew members work with the Becker County Sentence to Serve leaders at the transfer station.

Skoog said it is former prisoners who have been released from prison and are working on their probation. Those prisoners have the option of working at the facility.

Skoog said they screen everyone who is employed through the program and don’t accept people who have been in prison for violent crimes.

Not only does it help the county to have the former prisoners working there, it also benefits those who may not be able to find work otherwise. It teaches them work ethics, and some receive training on machinery and forklifts, which could benefit them when they are done with probation and looking for a job.

Skoog stressed that it’s not that the transfer station is bringing in prisoners and dumping them in the county either. They serve six months to a year at the transfer station job and then have to return to the county they originated from to complete their probation sentence.

Recycling increase

Recycling has increased 3 percent over last year.

“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is,” Skoog said.

Since Becker County is such a seasonal county, the numbers tend to skyrocket during the summer and taper off in the winter. But, they are still increasing for all seasons.

There are 45 public sites throughout the 1,445 square miles that make up the county that the county is responsible for collecting.

In town, the recycling is collected at least once a week, and sometime twice a week. In the rural areas, the collections are about once a week. Plastic and cardboard fill up the quickest, he said.

“A lot of commodities we deal with are light,” he said.

One container can hold 500 pounds of plastics.

The county accepts all plastics numbered 1-7, which also includes plastic toys. Toys with screws can’t be accepted, but a plastic toboggan is a perfect example of what they will take, Skoog said.

In 2012, the highest months for collection were June-August. June netted 335,729 pounds, July was 344,843 pounds and August was 331,624 pounds.

January and February were the lowest with 138,275 pounds in January and 137,484 pounds in February.

July and September of this year registered the highest increases in recycling thus far. In July, recycling increased to 409,945 pounds, and September increased to 303,939 pounds.

The total volume for 2012 was 1,461 tons of recycling products. In 2011, that number was 1,041 tons, and in 2010, it was 992 tons.

Besides the months of the year, tourism and weather making an impact on the numbers, the economy does as well.

Skoog said most people wouldn’t think about it, but when the economy is bad, so is the waste handling business because of the decline in what people can purchase.

“Your waste stream tells how your community is doing.”

Businesses participating

“Businesses couldn’t get recycling services so we started leasing out containers,” Skoog said.

Through an agreement, area businesses are responsible for the container, and the county makes rounds to pick up the recycling.

“Some businesses that never recycled before now do,” he said.

He said that since the county is already making frequent stops at all the public recycling sites, “it fits in pretty easily” to make stops at businesses as well.

In the future, Skoog said he would also like to get gas stations and multi-family units into recycling. It would cut down on their waste costs, improve the environment and benefit the county to have more recycling to handle.

Expanding county business

With the increase in recycling, it’s time to add personnel and trucks.

There is one full-time driver and two part-time drivers, but in 2014, Skoog said, they plan to make one of the part-timers a full-timer as well.

The county also opted last month to purchase a second compactor truck (for about $221,000 from Olympic Sales in Fargo) which will be here in December. The county has been operating with one truck for the last two years.

“If the truck went down, we have a mess on our hands — literally,” he said.

He said the second truck is needed for summer collection, and it’s good to have a second one for when the first one needs repairs or servicing.

In the past two years, the truck has put on about 100,000 miles. There are bound to be servicing needs with that many miles, he said.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.