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Dickinson landfill’s life expectancy shortened by growth

Crews work to pack loose fill garbage into the Dickinson landfill Wednesday afternoon. Dickinson's recent growth has shortened the projected life of the landfill, requiring the city to expand the operation southeast of town. 1 / 2
Crews work, to stack bales of garbage at the Dickinson landfill on Wednesday. The solid waste department plans to move away from using the baler and wants to move to a loose-fill operation, where the trash is compacted onsite, rather than in bales that are then buried in the landfill.2 / 2

More people in an area means more trash. More trash means worn-out equipment and a landfill that will hit capacity sooner than expected.

0 Talk about it

With the blessing of the Dickinson City Commission, the Dickinson Solid Waste Department will begin to look at expanding the landfill and changing up operations, moving away from the baler and into a 100 percent loose-fill operation.

“We’re just about at 100 percent double to where we were at (five years ago). We’re at 85 percent,” said Aaron Praus, the department’s chief operator. “If we continue the trends we’ve been seeing, next year we’ll be at 100 percent double where we were five years ago.”

While Dickinson is short of the 36,000 people predicted for 2014’s population by North Dakota State University in 2012, it is still growing substantially and the amount of trash collected reflects that, Praus said. The sanitation department deposited 37,000 tons of trash into the landfill in In 2009. The amount increased to more than 68,000 tons in 2013.

“The increased demand for existing services and recycling continues to be a growing priority to the general public, causing increased demand for us to expand these services further,” Praus said. “Being the only (municipal solid waste) landfill in the region, we are experiencing the rapid growth from our own community along with those surrounding us.”

Moving to a loose-fill operation would be less labor intensive than the baler, freeing up staff to properly maintain the area, Praus said.

The baler, purchased in 2002, is near the end of its 10- to 15-year life expectancy, and rather than put funds into costly repairs, the solid waste department would like to begin transitioning to the next step, Public Works Director Gary Zuroff said.

“Our current baler is getting old,” Zuroff said. “We have to either look at replacing or going to the loose fill.”

The equipment is not working as efficiently as it should, Praus said, creating issues with compaction and energy consumption. In 2013, the solid waste department spent more than $95,000 on repairs to the baler operation.

Regardless of what happens to the baler, the landfill needs to be expanded, Praus said. It has a life expectancy of another 27 to 32 years.

“In the case of the landfill, I think it’s the tonage numbers that are going to control what we do,” Commissioner Gene Jackson said. “I also believe — as I’ve said on other projects — that we have to err on the side of making sure we’re doing these things big enough, I still think that.”

The most efficient process would be to expand the current landfill, which was built from an old coal strip mine, rather than create a second location, Praus said. It would increase the landfill’s life by an additional 50 years.

“Regardless of whichever situation we go, the land purchase would be a top priority,” Praus said.

The project is planned for in the city’s capital improvements plan.

Traffic at the Baler Building has become an issue, Praus said. Vehicles have lined up 15 deep in either lane of Energy Drive waiting to bring refuse from residences and businesses.

“Not only are we holding up the traffic in our yard itself, we’re also holding up traffic that’s on Energy Drive,” Praus said.

The backed-up traffic is also causing the quality of state-recommended inspections to suffer, Praus said.

As the garbage tonage increased, so did the staff at the Baler Building, Praus said. By February there will be four open positions. With the lack of staff, existing members aren’t able to move around and learn new processes, which enables coverage throughout the department as employees are sick or take vacation.

The increased workload, combined with turnover resulting in a lack of experience, has upped the number of injuries, especially inhalation injuries caused when citizens bring illegal substances to the landfill, Praus said.

“The oil field is bringing a lot of unknown chemicals,” Praus said. “They’re running through our operations — and it’s not only the oil field, it’s the commercial businesses as well. People are throwing more and more different varieties into the waste stream, which is causing chemicals to mix together while they’re dumped on our floor.”

Removing the baler from the equation removes the large amount of staff needed to run and maintain it, allowing those employees to learn other areas of the solid waste department and provide needed maintenance to the machine.

“When the collection routes and things are completed, I would have the flexibility of staff to help out with the paper picking from the wind-blown debris,” Praus said. “Everybody would then be at one location for a time period.”

The Baler Building could be used for storage for trucks and containers as well as expansion of the city’s recycling program should it move to the loose-fill landfill.

Other options included replacing the baler as is, replacing the baler with a bigger machine or moving to a loose-fill operation with two landfills.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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