New Grand Forks recycling contract would maintain status quo

City Council members tentatively agreed to re-up a recycling contract with Texas-based Waste Management. The new agreement, if they approve it later this month, would keep recycling fees for single-family residences the same.

Russ Troemner on Friday tosses recyclables from a curb in Grand Forks into a Waste Management Inc. truck as he and Raymond Aguilar work a route. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)
Russ Troemner on Friday tosses recyclables from a curb in Grand Forks into a Waste Management Inc. truck as he and Raymond Aguilar work a route. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)

Grand Forks is on the verge of a new citywide recycling contract that would be more or less a continuance of its existing one.

City Council members, acting as the Committee of the Whole, on Monday, July 12, voted unanimously to accept a proposal from Houston, Texas-based Waste Management that would keep recycling service costs about the same for Grand Forks residents. They’re set to hold a final vote next week after City Attorney Dan Gaustad and other city staff put together a formal agreement that lines up with the company’s proposal.

“I was anticipating a significant escalation in cost,” City Council President Dana Sande said, “so I think this is fantastic.”

Waste Management has been handling the city’s recycling work for years. The company collects recycling on the city’s behalf in exchange for monthly fees per “unit,” which can mean a single apartment within a larger building, a single-family home, and so on. The city then passes those fees on to residents via their utility bills.

City staff budgeted $834,000 for recycling services in 2021 and Mayor Brandon Bochenski’s proposed budget for 2022 would bump that figure to $860,000. City Administrator Todd Feland said the $26,000 increase in the city’s budget for a recycling contract is meant to account for anticipated population growth.


Under the Waste Management proposal, the rates for a single-family residence would stay at $3.35 per month, while multi-family and small business service costs would decrease by about 13 cents per month, and the cost of maintaining a city “drop site” would decrease by $573 to $8,305.

“The lack of attendance on this issue tonight would seem to suggest a degree of satisfaction with the current service,” City Council member Bret Weber said, gesturing briefly to the mostly empty council chambers. “We’ll see if that changes next week.”

A pair of city surveys -- one online and one over the phone -- indicated that most residents are satisfied with the city’s existing recycling and garbage services.

The city currently has a “manual” collection system for recycling, which means recycling workers empty receptacles themselves, rather than via an arm attached to their truck.

Currently, the city charges people who live in single-family residences for recycling service whether they use it -- or ask for it -- or not. Multi-family residences such as apartment buildings, as well as commercial spaces, can opt in or out of the city recycling program.

The only proposal submitted to the city other than Waste Management’s was from Grand Forks-based Countrywide Sanitation, but staff there only detailed their rates for some drop sites. Company President Rachel Gornowicz suggested the city consider building the “Grand Forks Evergreen Center” instead, to which the city could haul recyclable materials from residents who opt in to the service in exchange for a fee.


$530 million in bonds, budget amendments, bridge repairs

In related news, council members preliminarily:

  • Approved issuing up to $530 million worth of revenue bonds on behalf of Altru Health System. Of that total, $30 million would go toward “capitalized interest” for Altru’s new hospital on Columbia Road, $170 million would refinance existing loans the company took out for some of its other Grand Forks properties, and $330 million would go toward completing the new hospital itself. Hospital representatives indicated they've budgeted approximately $380 million for that project, in total. The city made a similar move , but for only $50 million worth of bonds, in October 2020.
  • Approved a pair of budget amendments for Grand Forks Public Health. The first adds $277,250 to the department’s budget to account for a North Dakota Department of Health grant to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 who belong to demographics that have been disproportionately affected by the virus. The second adds $50,000 to account for a “health equity” grant, also from the state health department.
  • OK’d plans and specifications to repair the northern “finger joint” on the Columbia Road pedestrian overpass, which buckled last June amid a particularly harsh heatwave, about a month before the Columbia vehicle bridge did the same . City engineers estimate it will cost about $150,000 to repair the joint on the pedestrian bridge, temporarily restricting traffic to a single lane in each direction. They hope to have the repairs completed this fall. Council members in August 2020 approved $188,000 worth of repairs to the Columbia Road bridge.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

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