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Transfer station shutdown revealed inefficiencies, safety issues

The temporary closing of the Wadena County Solid Waste Transfer Station in March may have a silver lining, according to Mike Gibson, the county's human resources consultant.

Since Gibson was asked by the county to oversee the reorganization of the department he has reported numerous inefficiencies and safety and health concerns. Minnesota Safety Inc., submitted a three-page report detailing its observations on safety concerns at the transfer station.

This may be a good time to consider collaborating with Otter Tail County for some services, he said. Otter Tail County sells its cardboard and other recyclables whereas Wadena County pays to have them hauled away, he said.

"What may appear at first glance when you walk out to our transfer station as ... man we're in terrible shape, in fact, may be very timely," Gibson said.

This is an opportunity for the county to do something with its property as well as talk with Otter Tail County commissioners and staff to find out what kinds of things they can work together on, he said.

Wadena County has a terribly designed system at the transfer station, he said. It also needs to be repaired.

"This is a time for collaboration between counties," Gibson said. "Why reinvent the wheel."

Gibson strongly suggests the county board set appointments to visit the Otter Tail stations in New York Mills and Fergus Falls.

"Putting it simply, it blew me away it is so very well run," he said abut the Otter Tail plant.

Otter Tail County Solid Waste Director Mike Hanan said he thinks his county's board was very receptive of the idea to collaborate.

The difference between the Otter Tail and Wadena County facilities has a lot to do with the difference in the volume of materials they deal with, he said. It cost Otter Tail County $2.7 million to build its transfer station.

"Does it make sense to build something like that in Wadena County? No, probably not," Hanan said.

Hanan also pointed out that the market for recyclables is very volatile.

The Wadena County Board agreed it was a good idea for the solid waste committee to look into opportunities for collaboration and ways to save expenses for both counties.

Commissioners approved an additional two pages of recommendations dealing with topics such as the hiring of new transfer station employees, increasing petty cash at the transfer to $250, purchasing a new or used hook truck and setting up a compost site.

The board also approved a $4,757.62 payment to Otter Tail County for the services of its solid waste employee Larris Grewe during April. The board expressed its appreciation to Otter Tail County for helping them out.

Chris Harshaw, who started working at solid waste 15 days before it was closed, has been serving as the department's temporary full-time supervisor.

Solid waste was closed for two weeks following the placement of Solid Waste Director Scott Carpenter on unpaid leave and transfer station employee Joel Walsvik on paid leave until further notice after a March 25 emergency closed county board meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to "give preliminary consideration regarding allegations or charges in a criminal matter against a county employee," according to minutes from an open meeting that followed.