Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Nov. 20, 2000

Regional project aims to turn cities' sludge into saleable product

Recycling is a process of taking material that would otherwise be disposed of and making something useful from it.

That concept may be taken to a new level in a regional sludge treatment effort by several cities, which proposes to include Lester Prairie.

Paul Christensen of PeopleService, the operator of Lester Prairie's waste water treatment plant, explained the plans to the Lester Prairie City Council last Monday.

The City of Hutchinson has a new $2.4 million plant which is able to process wastewater sludge into fertilizer pellets. It is expected the resulting product could eventually be sold for as much as $3 to $8 for a 40-pound bag.

About 11 cities from Maple Lake to Arlington to Litchfield are pursuing a joint power agreement in which they would contract with Hutchinson to process the sludge.

As a group, the cities would have more clout in negotiating agreements than each would have individually, Christensen said.

The joint powers group would purchase mobile equipment that each city could use to dry its sludge before taking it to Hutchinson.

That step would reduce the number of truckloads to be hauled. In Lester Prairie's case, it would means about 17 dry tons of sludge instead of 24 wet tons.

The group has already obtained a $100,000 grant and by formally completing the agreement, wants to have an entity in place to lobby the state legislature next year for additional funding.

This is the first such effort of handling sludge on a regional basis in Minnesota, Christensen said, so it's hoped to be looked on favorably by funding sources.

Currently, Christensen said, Lester Prairie is applying its sludge on area farmland within regulations.

Although that system is working, it is always subject to change, he said.

Lester Prairie needs nine acres of land to meet its needs, which the city had in five sites. But one of those was eliminated because the phosphorus level was too high, and the other four are in line for housing developments. Other sites have been secured, he noted.

Christensen said the current process works with very short timelines.

The city has capacity to store sludge for about six months, however, application on land cannot be done on frozen or snow-covered ground. That leaves a short time in April before planting and a short time in fall after harvest to get those steps completed.

"This is a futuristic thing," he said of the new proposal. "What we have now is working, but we don't know for how long. As the town grows, we will have less storage capacity, and land use is getting touchier all the time."

The joint powers entity hopes to be fully functioning in late 2001 or early 2002.

It would own certain equipment and contract for labor, either with a member city or a private party.

The city could participate right away, or simply become a member city initially with an eye toward participating in the future.

Some of the financial cost-sharing is still being worked out, Christensen said, but it is headed toward being calculated on the amount of sludge produced. In that case, Lester Prairie amounts to only about 2.5 percent of the system, so its cost might be as low as $8,000.

"It's not based on population because some towns have industries that load the system heavily," Christensen said.

Mayor Eric Angvall asked if the city would get a percentage of sales if the product becomes marketable.

Christensen said one option would be that the city could receive fertilizer for use in its parks, cemetery, etc.

Another option is that sales could be used to offset operation costs, rather than each city trying to create a market.

Christensen added that if the product becomes saleable, the entire waste water system would be looked at in a different view - instead of a disposal service, it could all be considered part of a production process.

The council was not asked to take action until its December meeting.

Archery club sets its sights on Lester Prairie

Having moved out of the old theatre building in Winsted, the Winsted Archery Club is aiming for opening a range on the upper floor of Angvall Hardware and Mercantile in Lester Prairie.

Last Monday, the Lester Prairie City Council approved a change to its deadly weapons ordinance that opens the door for that possibility.

Previously, it would not have been allowed in the city, but the ordinance change allows indoor archery ranges as a recreational facility.

The city's planning commission will conduct a public hearing Monday, Dec. 4 to get input if the club should receive a special use permit.

Club Treasurer Rick Pichotta said the non-profit group believes Angvall's second floor would be an adequate location, but a lot of sweat equity is needed yet in remodeling.

Similar to bowling, archery leagues and tournaments take place in the winter months, with the schedule starting around Jan. 1, so a lot needs to be accomplished in a short time, he said.

The club hosts a number of tournaments, and is getting a good reputation in archery circles for hosting events, he said.

Last year, the club had about 35 people shooting once a week, though they aren't all there at the same time, Pichotta said.

The range operates as a "key club" with members being able to go to the range at their convenience. At least one adult member is to be present at all times.

The remodeling would include a barricade wall behind the targets.

There is a separate entrance from ground level with a stairway. The biggest concern is having a second fire exit, Pichotta said, but it could be arranged to have access to the windows at the front of the store for an emergency situation.

Questioned by council members about operation of the range, Pichotta said that safety is always the number one concern.


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