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Houghton County: No transfer station RFQ until at least late 2022

HOUGHTON — If Houghton County does decide to sell or lease its transfer station, it will not happen for close to three years.

The county was evaluating offering a request for proposals for companies that could offer county-wide recycling program at the transfer station. The county’s attorney advised the Solid Waste Committee that under the terms of a three-year contract that began in April, Waste Management could have right of first refusal.

“I don’t think it would be in the best interest of the county or, more importantly our residents, to try to push a request for proposal for sale or lease at this time, and frankly it’s due to the contract that we are obligated to for the next two-and-a-half years,” Sold Wasie Committee Chair Tom Tikkanen said.

Tikkanen said the committee had not had the chance to review the contract prior to it being signed. He said he had sent an opinion to the former county administrator in January arguing that Waste Management’s proposed contract was too oppressive; Waste Management then sent back a modified agreement similar to its previous contract with the county from 2012.

“I think it behooves this organization to take a more hands-on approach with future contracts,” Tikkanen said.

In advance of the contract’s 2022 end date, the county could begin looking at another operator or landfill to be used, Commissioner Glenn Anderson said. In the meantime, he said, the county should direct the administrator to make a five-year capital improvement plan and budget for capital expenditures. Anderson also suggested asking Waste Management for a price for a 40-yard dumpster for single-stream recycling, as well as the hauling costs to take it to the landfill in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

“I think for a modest amount of investment, we could get single-stream recycling,” he said. “Everyone would have to come and do a dropoff, but we could easily do that at the transfer station. Now that we know it has to be done through Waste Management, we can ask them for a price.”

Anderson also asked the solid waste committee to endorse the use of credit cards at the transfer station, which now only accepts cash or checks.

Terrie Bray, who operates the transfer station, said she felt adding credit-card payments would unnecessarily slow down operations. If the county does add credit cards, she said, it would need extra staff.

“We get 400 people in there on a Saturday, and as it is they have to run the scale for 300 of them, and then try to run the cash register and try to keep track of everything,” she said.

Anderson said adding credit cards might lead to more revenue for the site, which could allow for the hiring of additional staff.

Bray asked Anderson why the county wanted to sell the facility. There had been no commitment to that, Anderson said, and the stronger the facility’s performance is, the less likely it is to happen.

“if we did credit cards and then single-stream recycling, we have everything that we will need to do in the next five, 10 years to keep it a county enterprise and keep it a viable county operation,” he said.

In the event of a lease or a sale, non-recyclables would likely continue to go to the landfill in Greenland, Tikkanen said.

Over the next two years, the county doing recycling on its own could give insight into what residents countywide want, said Commissioner Roy Britz. Last week, he spoke with Laird Township, which picks up its own garbage and hauls it to Greenland. That township has no interest in joining a countywide plan, he said.

“I think that gives us a great opportunity, two-plus years, to see what recycling can be done on our own in the county and still manage our own facility and control the cost,” he said.

Bray said she is against the idea of selling the station, but would welcome trying a bin for single-stream recycling.

“I think Roy’s comment about trying it in the next couple of years will give everyone a great idea on whether it would work or not, and if we can move forward with it,” he said.

Carol Ekstrom of the Copper Country Recycling Initiative approved of the direction of the board’s discussion.

“I think it would be so much more convenient for the residents of the county,” she said. “The transfer station in effect would be a one-stop place where they could bring their recycling.”

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