Hubbard County looks at new options for trash disposal
To burn or not to burn.
That is the question.
Hubbard County commissioners Tuesday mulled over the issue of waste disposal and the future.
As waste piles up, the options to deal with it seem to become more limited. Currently the county trucks 13,488 tons of garbage to a landfill in Gwinner, N.D., 230 miles away.
Tuesday board members heard a proposal from the Fosston incinerator manager on disposal closer to home.
The trouble is, the incinerator is operating at capacity now, Environmental Services Administrator Jon Steiner said, and Hubbard County's waste would be landfilled, just closer to home. It would have to gradually be worked into the incineration cycle and that could take years.
The cost would be fairly comparable to what the county pays now.
But solid waste officer Vern Massie said trucking 37 tons of garbage a day to North Dakota is something to consider as the price per ton, currently $86.50 to $89.50, rises.
"I think it's a viable option," Massie said.
Trucking waste to Fosston would be roughly $97.50 per ton.
But you're not comparing apples to apples, Steiner said.
A front end sorting option at Fosston would give the county 25 percent more recyclables, Steiner said. The separation is done for better marketability of recyclables, he said.
Commissioners made certain that incinerating waste would not interfere with the recycling contract Hubbard County has with the Developmental Achievement Center, which processed 2,814 tons of materials in 2012.
Transportation costs would be reduced shipping waste closer to home, Steiner said. But the county having to invest in a fleet of trucks and trailers could offset that.
Currently a multi-county consortium of Polk, Beltrami, Clearwater and Norman oversees the incinerator's operations, but does not participate in the economics of it.
Polk County wants to operate the two-stack incinerator "at a sustainability level," Steiner said. But he acknowledged that any profits would be that county's.
Massie said he has explored going in to Perham's incinerator, but that facility "could only take one-third of our waste," he said. "What would we do with the rest?"
Fosston's incinerators, meanwhile, burn 90 tons a day. The plant sells the steam to three food processors that use it in their operations, Steiner told the board.
"The state caps how much they can process," Steiner said when asked if he could increase capacity.
"Our landfill has a lot of growth potential," he added.
Expanding the partnership would allow the incinerators to burn different types of materials. It would also spread overhead costs among more partners and stabilize tip fees, Steiner told the board.
A pick line that pre-screens recyclables could optimize Hubbard County's profits on recycling.
"There's always recyclable stuff in the garbage," Steiner said. Items such as paper, clothes and plastic bags come out the back end of the screener.
"That stuff (minus the paper) doesn't combust well," Steiner said. Of the 33,000 tons of garbage the facility takes in annually, 25,000 tons are incinerated, he said.
But he admitted the facility is dependent on the economy. When one steam client had to cut back use, profits also diminished, Steiner said. The recycling market has been depressed for years.
"Aluminum took a huge hit," he said.
But Steiner said if the incinerators could produce more steam, clients would purchase more.
"They've all indicated they want more," he said. "But you're always subject to the ups and downs."
Waste assessments in Polk County are somewhat lower. Residential taxpayers pay $142 annually in Hubbard County; $100 in Polk County. Hubbard's rates just went up $4 per year, from $138.
Commercial users pay $183 in Hubbard County; $120 in Polk County.
Steiner said the incinerator's contracts expire in 2014 and he wants a commitment from Hubbard County soon. He said he's applying for grant funds to expand the incinerator plant's tip floor.
Hubbard County's contract with Waste Management to truck garbage to Gwinner expires in 2016.
"If they're going to expand they want to know if we're a viable player," Massie said.
Hubbard County could form a sanitary district with Beltrami County, for instance, to fund the cost of the trucks and trailers, Massie suggested.
The board took no formal action.
"If you're incinerating our garbage" that would seal the deal, board chair Cal Johannsen told Seiner.
"But if you're landfilling it, North Dakota or Minnesota doesn't matter. We're talking about comparable sums."
Since the board was in a work session, it could take no action.
But board members promised to re-visit the idea at a future meeting.
The incinerator is dependent on landfill revenues, Steiner said.