Otter Tail County commissioners took several steps toward protecting the environment during their Tuesday, Feb. 23 meeting, much of it paid with state or federal funding.

A new truck will help recycle the plastic used to wrap boats for the winter and hay bales, and is used in greenhouses, thanks to a $232,000 grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This truck will be shared with Todd and Wadena counties, and the plastic will head to Revolution Plastics in Arkansas.

The truck will help expand the county’s plastics recycling program. The county expects to recycle 30% more film plastic and divert at least 555 tons of film plastic each year from landfills, processing in Perham, or burning.

County officials also want to divert eggshells, old bread and other food waste from its trash system by giving facilities and residents to turn it into compost.

Commissioners gave them permission to apply for a grant that would pay for up to 75% of the $224,000 cost of the program.

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“We’re just really excited about this opportunity,” said Cedar Walters, a public information and education officer. “There is really a lot of potential for reducing landfill space.”

Otter Tail County has no organics recycling program, unlike neighboring Douglas County. A composting program could turn 200 tons of organic waste annually through 20 pilot sites, including care facilities, schools and grocery stores. The materials could then be turned into fertilizer. It would also offer residents the equipment to turn their own food waste into compost.

As much as a third of the county’s waste is material that could be composted. It also provides soggy fuel for the Perham incinerator.

“Burning apples doesn’t work and landfilling apples isn’t a wise use of your space,” said Solid Waste Director Chris McConn.

The third step they took toward environmental protection was giving the green light to a plan to protect the Redeye Watershed.

Land and Resource Director Chris LeClair said the plan involves working with farmers and mapping the location of septic systems, among other steps. The watershed covers several counties, and 66% of it is in Otter Tail County.

More street lights coming

The county has completed its 2021 Roadway Safety Plan which identifies $23 million worth of projects to improve safety. Those projects involve aligning intersections on curves as well as adding 19 street lights.

Schmaltz retires as recorder

Carol Schmaltz, who is retiring as county recorder, got a sendoff of humor and respect. County commissioners gave her a standing ovation and one called her an “Otter Tail County legend.” Schmaltz ran for the county recorder position in 2014 after retiring from a career in law enforcement, during which she focused on protecting children from sexual abuse. She won the election and, judging by employee comments read aloud by County Administrator Nicole Hansen, quickly won the affection of those in the recorder’s office as well.

“We always felt safe with her in the office,” was one comment. “We knew she could take anyone down.”

Other comments: “She cared about us and our families,” “We worked hard but had fun,” and “She scared the blank out of me with a skeleton.”

Lynn Larson, her chief deputy, is the new recorder.