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County recycling center will more than double in size to meet demand

Soothed, perhaps, by the thought of $750,000 in state grants for construction, the Becker County Board took the plunge Tuesday and approved the $2.5 million construction project.

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A worker and a county crew chief work the sort line at the Becker County recycling center. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory it’s not, but the Becker County recycling center is going to more than double in size, and will have a magical sort of flow of its own when it’s done.

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Workers on the sort line at the Becker County recycling center. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

Mattresses will be recycled in one large corner, with the metal and wood mechanically separated on “spin tables” – with the metal recycled and the wood reused when possible. The mattress fabric will be baled up and recycled. Mattress disposal is a problem all over the state, and Becker County will be the regional mattress processing center for all of northwestern Minnesota.

And it’s no chocolate river, but a large cross-bunker conveyor will carry cardboard and other recyclables to the crown jewel of the whole operation – a big new auto-tie baler. It will preside over the largest space created by the expansion.

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It will be nearly twice as fast as the older baler now being used, and won’t require nearly as much manpower to operate. It’s also capable of much heavier, more condensed loads, which will save the county money on hauling, and open up more market options, said Becker County Land Use Director Steve Skoog.

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A Bobcat pushes cardboard into the baler at the Becker County recycling center. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

Other parts of the larger building will provide space for electronic waste and appliance recycling, and one corner area will become a tip floor for commingled recyclables.

“The tip floor (where truckloads of recyclables are dumped) is not big enough in the summer,” Skoog said. “There’s times they can barely get the garage doors shut.”

Soothed, perhaps, by the thought of $750,000 in state grants for construction, the Becker County Board took the plunge Tuesday and approved the $2.5 million construction project.

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Working the old baler at the Becker County recycling center. A new auto-tie baler will speed up the process. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

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That will grow the building from 12,000 square feet to 31,500 square feet when it’s finished next fall.

Bristlin Construction of Detroit Lakes, owned by Scott Bristlin, won the project with a low bid of about $2.2 million. That was under the engineer’s estimate, and about $560,000 lower than the next lowest bid. There were five bidders in all.

Commissioner Ben Grimsley cast the only no vote, mostly out of concern for how much it will cost to equip the expanded facility. The state is kicking in a $250,000 grant to help pay for the auto-tie baler, but the county will have to come up with another $391,000 to buy the big baler, the conveyor system and a pre-compactor, among other equipment. And that’s not a current estimate.

Grimsley noted that the county ended up paying a lot more than it planned for earlier improvements at the recycling center, and he wants to avoid any similar surprises.

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Inside the Becker County recycling center, which will more than double in size, and add new equipment. (Nathan Bowe/tribune)

“The last time we did this, we had to put another $500,000 into what I thought was a solid plan,” he said at the county board meeting.

Skoog offered to stick to the $641,000 equipment estimate, even if it means buying used equipment or delaying equipment purchases, but the board opted to make those equipment decisions when the time comes.

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The county is floating a $1.75 million, 20-year bond to help pay for the expansion project – part of a larger bond issuance for the new highway department off North Tower Road.

As Becker County’s population has grown (from about 32,500 people in 2010 to about 34,500 now), so has the volume of recyclables that flow through the county’s processing center at the transfer station. And it really gets busy in the summertime.

This year, about 3,500 tons of cardboard, paper, glass, metal, plastic and agricultural plastic wrap was recycled by Becker County. That’s up from about 2,500 tons five years ago.

The county received about $196,000 for its recycled cardboard this year. It processed over 1,500 tons – more than double the tonnage of five years ago.

It received about $141,000 for its plastics (255 tons), $10,00 for its mixed paper, about $110,000 for aluminum cans and other metal products processed through the recycling center, and another $234,000 for metal shipped out that wasn't processed through the center. It lost about $10,000 on its glass recyclables.

The county may not make a ton of money on recyclables, but it helps reduce the overall cost of managing the garbage stream, Skoog said. Last year, about 21,000 tons of municipal solid waste was shipped from Becker County, at a cost of about $128 per ton.

Keeping the costs low at the recycling center are the unsung heroes who man the conveyor belts and keep the recyclable stream flowing. Many of them were serving time in state prisons, but qualified for a program that houses them in the Becker County Jail and allows them to work in the recycling center. The pay is low, but the county recently added $200 a month bonuses – enough so that half dozen or so men are now participating. The county would like to get that number up to around 10 men when the larger facility opens up, Skoog said.

The larger building will also be a safer building – it will be equipped with fire-prevention sprinklers, and have the tip floor contained. “The biggest fire threat in a MRF (materials recovery facility) is the tip floor, sometimes there are batteries … you don’t know what comes in,” Skoog said.

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