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'Henrietta Mall' sees dramatic decline in waste stream

The pile of appliances at the south side solid waste transfer station is down. Waste attendants say people are no longer discarding household items and are hanging on to appliances until "they're dead dead." (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

The Henrietta Mall is drastically low on inventory, due to reductions in the supply chain.

Like all businesses, the mall hopes for a turnaround. But hard times have hit the waste stream.

The "mall" is the euphemism given to the Hubbard County Solid Waste Transfer Station, located off Henrietta Avenue in Park Rapids.

Fewer people are buying merchandise and generating less garbage.

That was the report the Hubbard County board heard Wednesday from solid waste manager Vern Massie.

"Basically there's less traffic, less volume," he said. "A lot is due to Pamida closing, due to Straight River Engineering cutting back, things like that. It's the economy just generally."

Massie told the board solid waste collections dropped 19 percent in January over the previous month with recycling collections falling off 40 percent.

"I think a lot of them, from the few (people) I've talked to, they're not buying those things they probably bought in the past," he said. "When they go shopping they might bypass more frilly luxury things and just get the necessity things. Thus they're cooking more at home, they're not going out to eat as much...

"It's all inclusive," he said. "The businesses aren't generating because the public isn't buying and the public isn't generating because they're not buying it to generate."

Massie said a good barometer of the economy was this week. Normally after a long holiday weekend, residents would fill four trailers with solid waste. Tuesday, they filled only two.

'That's a normal average day," Massie said.

"Even collections of appliances are down," said solid waste attendant Jody Bjornson. "It used to be that people would get rid of their appliances before they were dead. Now they hang on to them until they're dead dead."

The mountainous pile of appliances at the transfer station is now a molehill.

Bjornson and fellow attendant Janelle Pedersen say there's been a dramatic reduction in the amount of household goods, construction materials, scrap metal and other items dropped off at the station.

"People are hanging onto things longer," Pedersen said.

'There's no remodeling going on so we're not seeing construction waste," Bjornson said.

Massie said the number of recycled cans has fallen off because consumers are cutting back on soda purchases.

The lack of waste also led the board to scuttle a proposed solid waste transfer station near Akeley on Highway 64.

"Three, four, five years ago we started looking for alternatives sites in case something would happen to our one in Park Rapids so we might be looking at more demolition facilities," Massie said. "That's where we take our demolition materials from housing, road projects, the wood debris, the concrete, the shingles."

The housing industry is down, road construction may experience a slowdown and the price tag for the transfer station was too steep, commissioners agreed.

Massie had approached the board about spending $5,000 to begin the permitting process, which would eventually lead to building the transfer station. He then suggested holding off.

Commissioners agreed and put the brakes on the expenditure, mainly because they don't foresee spending large sums of money for the transfer station, even though the permit would be good for five years and is renewable.

"I don't think we're gonna put $2 million in it," said commissioner Don Carlson, after learning of the cost.

Massie said solid waste collections have been down since gas leapt to $4 per gallon.

"People were stockpiling it in the back of their pickups and bringing in one load a month instead of every week," he said. "We're still seeing that."

But the county is also stockpiling recyclable waste, because the price has plummeted. "We're shipping it out only when we have to," he said.

"We know the site is something we can get permitted if we want to move forward," Massie said. "Right now the volume doesn't warrant it. Everything kind of came to a screeching halt. Not too much sense pursuing that and setting it on the shelf."

Just like the economy, Massie believes there will be a waste revival.

"We hope to see it increasing, but the traffic volume on any given day is drastically lower than what we see normally."

Bjornson said he thinks hard times have forced people to take a hard look at their consumer habits.

"Maybe that's not a bad thing," he said. 'We're a wasteful society."