Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, July 26, 1999

Wright County compost facility problem still here

By John Holler

For the last couple of years, the ill-fated Wright County Compost Facility has sat in mothballs non-operational, but still capable of being brought back to life in the event legislation passes that makes composting a feasible waste disposal option.

However, at the July 20 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners hinted that the days of wishful thinking of making the multi-million-dollar white elephant profitable may be over.

The discussion began with a question from new commissioner Elmer Eichelberg, who said he has become confused by the lack of information available about the options the county has concerning the facility, which has made it difficult for him to answer questions from his constituents.

"I just want to get off of square one," Eichelberg said. "A lot of people in my area have asked me what's going on out there and I have nothing to tell them and the reason is that I haven't heard anything."

Eichelberg said he would like to hire a consultant to look at the county's options for the compost plant. He felt the options are to determine the costs to restart the facility, the cost of leasing the plant to an outside company or simply selling the plant outright.

However, Board Chair Pat Sawatzke disagreed, saying the consultants were half the problem the county finds itself in now forcing every property owner to pay $40 a year for a facility that isn't operating.

"Paying a consultant would be pouring money down a rat hole," Sawatzke said. "It was consultants that told us to start the compost plant in the first place after doing a study on the options."

Commissioner Dick Mattson said he would be unwilling to re-open the plant unless something changed dramatically in the costs involved in keeping the plant running the last couple of years of its operation.

"There is no way I would approve opening that plant if the costs stay the same," Mattson said. "It cost Wright County $1 million a year to compost and make a product that we couldn't sell to anyone. It doesn't make sense to me to open it back up if it's going to cost us that much money and create a product that nobody wants and that we can't sell."

Commissioner Ken Jude said that he has been approached by private companies looking to lease or buy the compost plant site, but that the county hasn't been forthcoming with meetings or minutes of meetings from the Solid Waste Task Force making the status of such inquiries moot as far as he's concerned.

At Eichelberg's request, the board agreed to meet as a committee of the whole to discuss the issue of the compost plant and what options the county has at its disposal up to an including taking a loss and simply getting rid of it.

"I think we need to do something," Eichelberg said. "It isn't doing anyone any good just sitting there doing nothing. If we have a use for it, great. I can tell people in my area what we intend to do with it. If we can get some money back by leasing or selling it, that's fine, too. I just want to see something done, because we're doing nothing now and that isn't working."

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