Kathy Pearson drops off recycling.

The Aitkin County Recycling Center could soon house a solid waste transfer site as well. (Age file photo)

A request to approve a conditional use permit for Waste Management was tabled May 17 – a request that would start the process for a solid waste transfer station at the Aitkin County Recycling Center.

According to the recycling contract that was signed with Aitkin County in March, Waste Management has the right to pursue using the site at 36498, 36326 400th Ave., Aitkin, as a solid waste transfer station.

The company submitted a conditional use permit application that was set to be reviewed May 17 at the Aitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission in a public hearing.

There was more than an hour’s worth of questions, discussion and complaints – including several residents not receiving notice of  the public hearing.

“We didn’t get any notice at all,” said Mary Dangle, one of about 20 residents that showed up for the meeting. “I feel very uninformed.”

Others expressed the same sentiment. The end result was that the residents at the meeting expressed the feeling that Waste Management was trying to sneak in a new facility.

Aitkin County Environmental Services Director Andrew Carlstrom said that the issue with residents not receiving letters had to do with a limited-liability company owning the properties. That kept the county’s GIS mapping program from recognizing the addresses as individual homes.

“GIS software didn’t pick up these individual lots,” Carlstrom said.

However, it became clear at the public hearing that Waste Management and residents are coming at the potential site with two different perspectives.

“It’s about the location and the convenience of this site,” said Julie Ketchum, the public relations manager for the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Dakotas area for Waste Management. “The more efficient we can make waste collection the better.”

Ketchum said the idea right now would involve just four trucks weekly at the site. Solid waste would be processed solely inside the current building. State and federal regulations would dictate inside-only handling of solid waste.

“Everything is supposed to be inside the building,” said Terry Neff, formerly the county’s environmental supervisor. “The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will be inspecting that annually. They have to permit the facility.”

Neff added that Carlstrom will be on hand to inspect the facility locally.

“He has the right to inspect that facility any time, as many times as he wants,” Neff said. “They have to comply with all the conditions.”

In response to questions raised at the public hearing, Ketchum said late last week that no industrial waste would be handled at the proposed station and that Waste Management wants to work to educate the public. The additional time granted with the tabling of the CUP, she said, will allow for that.

“We hope to work with the public to allay the concerns that they have,” she said. “We want to have a full discussion about the facility.”

Residents, though, see the prospect of dropping property values and an invasion of their country lifestyle should garbage be processed at the site. Eight separate form letters signed by numerous residents were filed protesting the CUP before the public hearing.

Garrison Disposal – the company that had previously held the recycling contract – was also involved. The company informed residents of the potential change, and even retained a lawyer, Ed Shaw out of Brainerd.

Shaw said at the meeting that Waste Management was not following the rules at its site in Baxter, and that residents had every reason to be concerned.

“You get smells, you get flies, you get animals. It’s not pleasant,” said Shaw, adding that the company needed a bigger site than what the recycling land offers.

To the planning and zoning commission, he said, “Take some time, make a good decision.”

Ketchum did clarify that Waste Management is not processing solid waste at the Baxter site – only recycling. All solid waste, she said, would be transferred to the Elk River landfill in Sherburne County.

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