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Saving green: Beltrami commissioners discuss waste management plan

BEMIDJI -- Waste not, want not.

Beltrami County commissioners reviewed the county’s waste management plan Tuesday as Katie Swor, environmental engineer with Wenck Associate’s Woodbury, Minn., office presented commissioners with a work plan that focuses on reduction and reuse of waste materials.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requires counties to update waste management plans every 10 years. Wenck prepared an update to the county’s plan, which was approved in February 2013 by the County Commission. Official adoption of the Wenck proposal is scheduled for March 18.

“This is required of every county in Minnesota,” Swor said. “It is tied to the SCORE recycling grant.” (SCORE is part of the Minnesota Waste Management Act and provides grants to counties to develop reduction and recycling programs.)

Swor said completion of the update insures that counties complete the grant application on time. Beltrami has completed the process with Polk, Mahnomen and Norman counties.

Wenck Associates’ plan for Beltrami County includes continuing to process waste at the Polk County Waste-to-Energy Facility in Fosston, Minn., and encouraging waste reduction through education and volume-based solid waste fees. The plan also keeps a focus on efforts to receive applicable SCORE (Select Committee on Recycling and the Environment) funding to support recycling initiatives and programs.

“(Polk County) is one of the most important facilities in both the current integrated solid waste management system as well as the proposed future system,” Swor said. “Polk County fairly recently added a Materials Recovery Facility onto the front of their plant.”

A Materials Recovery Facility allows the plant to pick out recyclables and materials that could cause problems inside the incinerator. The majority of recycling composition materials that came from Beltrami County in 2011 was paper, with 15 percent being problem materials such as appliances, used oil filters and household hazardous waste.

Beltrami County currently participates in an integrated waste management system that includes the Bemidji Solid Waste Transfer Station, the Blackduck/Kelliher Transfer Station and rural collection sites at Ten Lakes, Waskish, Nebish, Pinewood, Fourtown and Grygla. Both transfer stations and rural collection sites require residents to separate their recyclables into the appropriate containers.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick said people aren’t using the recycling receptacles correctly, by dumping their garbage in them, and that having a garbage bin at the recycling facilities would be a benefit.

“The problem is we got lazy folks out there... 30 percent of all that we collect in those recycling bins is garbage,” Lucachick said. “What I see as a simple problem, is at these transfer stations you don’t have any place for regular garbage.”

Lucachick also noted that if local people don’t use local facilities, it doesn’t benefit the local economy. Beltrami County Solid Waste Director Bill Patnaude said regular garbage cannot be brought to another county.

Commissioner Jack Frost said people need to be educated on the subject of recycling and stop desecrating the land.

“From the standpoint of the environment, I’m looking at the big R: Reduction,” Patnaude said.

More efficient ways to reduce the amount of waste created and better ways to dispose of existing waste is necessary for the future of the county, he said.

Wenck Associates predicts that Beltrami County’s population of approximately 45,325 residents will increase 11 percent by 2023. Bemidji’s present population density is 14.8 people per square mile, as reported by Wenck, which the firm considers low.

As the population grows, so too will the amount of waste produced. However, Swor said, Beltrami County produced a per capita rate of 0.65 tons of solid waste per person per year in 2011; the average for Minnesota was 1.06. Beltrami County’s number was 0.64 tons in 2012.

“Beltrami County is doing a really good job so far at waste reduction,” Swor said. “Landfilling has been steadily decreasing.”

Beltrami County partners with Clearwater, Mahnomen, Norman and Polk counties to service northwestern Minnesota. Materials that are not recycled are disposed of at the Polk County facility. Steam collected from incineration of waste is used to heat the facility in Fosston and distributed to steam customers in the Fosston Industrial Park. Additional steam is routed through a steam-powered turbine generator to produce electricity.

“It’s good to have this sort of regional cooperation, especially in more rural counties that don’t have the population base that can drive the economies,” Swor said.

A landfill in Gwinner, N.D., is also used for final disposal of non-recycled materials. Beltrami County is also part of a 10-county Northwest Minnesota Household Hazardous Waste network, which Swor said can accept anything with a skull and cross bones on it.

Potential developments to reach Wenck’s recycling goal include curbside recycling in Bemidji and an expansion of the Fosston facility.

For more information on recycling in Beltrami County, visit

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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