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A burning issue

The Becker County commissioners toured the Polk County Solid Waste Resource Recovery Plant in Fosston on Tuesday, and saw how the facility recycles garbage from five area counties into steam energy, which is sold to industrial park customers. (Vicki Gerdes/DL Newspapers)

On Tuesday, representatives from the City of Perham, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Otter Tail County will meet with the Becker County Board to discuss the proposed expansion of Perham's solid waste incinerator.

Becker County has been invited to become a joint powers partner in the expansion of the Perham Resource Recovery Facility. The commissioners have been given until the end of June to reach a decision.

To help them reach that decision, the commissioners went on a "fact-finding tour" of the Polk County incinerator in Fosston this past Tuesday.

"We just wanted to see what (an incinerator) with a materials recovery facility (MRF) in front of it would look like," explained Becker County Environmental Services Administrator Steve Skoog, who accompanied the commissioners on the trip.

One of the decisions the commissioners are pondering, explained County Administrator Brian Berg, is whether they would like to see a MRF included at the Perham facility as part of the expansion project.

A MRF extracts and separates recyclable materials such as scrap iron and aluminum from the solid waste stream before it is sent to the incinerator.

As explained during the tour by Bill Wilson, facilities manager for the Polk County Solid Waste Resource Recovery Plant, adding a MRF can help extend the life of an incinerator by extracting materials that could damage the internal machinery, such as aluminum (when melted) and glass.

In addition to the MRF, the incinerator also contains a pollution control device known as an electrostatic precipitator, which removes harmful particles such as dust and smoke, allowing the steam to be sold to energy customers in the Fosston Industrial Park, where the facility is located.

"We make use of all the steam we produce," said Wilson, noting that whatever is not sold to the facility's three primary energy customers is sent to a small turbine and converted to electricity.

The ash, meanwhile, is taken out and spread at the county landfill, which serves as daily cover.

"Polk County has one of the best landfills around," said Wilson, noting that the incinerator has helped to extend its life considerably.

"Right now we have at least 50 years more life, where it would have been filled 5-10 years ago without this facility," he added.

Some of the ash produced by the incinerator has also been used to replace aggregate in the asphalt used on county road projects.

"It's been very successful," Wilson said, noting that the asphalt combined with ash instead of aggregate is about 22 percent stronger and 18 percent more flexible.

"We reuse, recycle, convert to steam or electricity about 98 percent of what comes in the door," Wilson said. "There's very little that escapes or goes to waste."

Skoog noted that Wilson, who has been with the Fosston facility since its construction in 1986, is "very much an expert in the field, and a good resource."

Wilson said that while the MRF at the Fosston facility cost about $1.8 million when it was built, he expects that a facility with a similar capacity would cost about $5 million if constructed today. The Fosston MRF processes 150 tons of waste material per day.

Following the tour, the commissioners were quite impressed by what they saw.

"It's a very good example of a well-run facility," said Commissioner Barry Nelson.