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Henrietta Mall customers will see stricter policies at transfer station

Unsupervised shopping excursions have come to a halt at the south side transfer station's "Henrietta Mall." (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

You could call it a going-out-of-business sale if it had ever been in business.

Laissez-faire policies of live and let live at Hubbard County's Henrietta Mall have changed, ending the free flow of potentially valuable solid waste to profiteers.

"The county board has set in place a policy for folks that need a part or piece to fix something and it is simple policy," solid waste superintendent Vern Massie said.

"The policy doesn't and never was intended for folks to make a living out of the scrap metal pile. "

The mall got its name from the steady stream of traffic coming in daily, "dumpster divers" pawing through piles of scrap metals, appliances, construction waste and other debris.

It was the lower level of the south side transfer station off Henrietta Avenue and did a brisk - but mostly outgoing - business.

It was a place where scroungers would meet most mornings, have coffee in their pickups and cart up truckloads of bargains to haul off site.

The policy got abused.

"Last fall the metal pile was so sparse that the contractor wasn't making ends meet and was concerned as he operated folks were taking loads of his product," Massie said.

"People were stealing it while he was there, the guy that pays the county for scrap metal and there wasn't hardly anything there worth loading," Massie added.

"It had gotten so bad that our pile was almost non existent" and the contractor threatened to quit.

Because metal prices have risen, that was a source of income to the county.  

The crackdown angered many residents including Dianne Wylie, who accused the transfer station of inconsistent and varying policies.

"When you stop at the office they say you don't need to come up there unless you are dropping stuff off out back," Wylie e-mailed the Enterprise. "Then they change back to every time in or out, then back to only drop off, etc. I know there is a sign but they don't enforce it and act as if you are wasting their time if you only want to go look around."

The policy of tolerance was sorely tested when people were ransacking and vandalizing products for a nickel's worth of copper, Massie said.

Massie said residents are still getting used to the fact they can no longer freely enter the solid waste level and empty it to sell it to junk dealers.

Wylie said she even directed friends to go to the transfer station because the county had been open in allowing people to enter that area of the landfill seeking a part.

She said she was embarrassed when she directed some friends there and they were stopped.

"Reuse of demolition wood material is encouraged as that saves us space," Massie said.  "The scrap metal-appliance recycling area for the past couple years has been an income" source. And the metal contractor has his own expenses to meet, he said.

"We had to do something as it was getting out of hand with folks hauling out 3-4 pickup loads which basically is stealing as when the item is off loaded it is county property," Massie said, the frustration evident in his voice.

Since the crackdown, the scrap metal pile has doubled in the last two weeks, he noted.

And the county bore considerable liability allowing citizens to climb around in piles of sharp metal objects, Massie said.

Hubbard County citizens have emotional ties to the landfill, Massie acknowledges.

So when customer complaints surfaced this month of poor service, Massie dealt with them immediately. Commissioner Dick Devine said he'd received three recent complaints.

"The complaints Dick got were from three people who felt they needed assistance and didn't get it," Massie acknowledged.

"Three of my staff people were just standing there hollering instructions rather than helping them."

The employees were reprimanded.

Massie said because the operation is one big family, including the Developmental Achievement Center, success depends on a cooperative environment.

Usable solid waste recyclables are directed to DAC thrift shops such as Bearly Used or the newer Salvage Depot.

DAC employees handle the recycling part of the transfer station activities.

So manager Rick Zeller weighed in after last week's story on the complaints, objecting to the use of a photo accompanying the transfer station story that had recycling operations in it.

"We're completely separate," he said, "We've never had a complaint."

While Massie's employees work to change their own policy, they're bracing for more complaints and hoping to eventually achieve Zeller's unblemished record.

And, Massie said if you're looking for a bicycle or part, check in at the office and ask. The staff will assist you in locating that item.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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