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North Dakota woman holds unusual landfill job

HAZEN, N.D. -- Candace Strand of Hazen is one of a kind. She's the only woman in the state to manage a landfill, and she does so from the office and from behind the wheel of a front end loader out in the pits at the Mercer County Regional Landfil...

HAZEN, N.D. -- Candace Strand of Hazen is one of a kind.

She's the only woman in the state to manage a landfill, and she does so from the office and from behind the wheel of a front end loader out in the pits at the Mercer County Regional Landfill, four miles northwest of Hazen.

Judging by the numbers, it's an unusual job for a woman.

Strand, who doesn't stand much more than 5 feet and wears her blonde hair in a heavy braid down her back, is one of five certified female operators and the only one who's in charge of the operation, according to the State Health Department's Waste Management Division.

It works for her.


It also works for the guys who work for her.

"She pretty much leads from the front," said Mike Fondie, who was recently hired to help with the heavy equipment work required to keep pits clean and covered on a daily basis.

Kurt Milbradt, who's also a certified operator, said, "She knows this place forward and backward. She treats us like you'd want to be treated."

Strand hasn't been the boss all that long -- two months, actually, and acting supervisor before that -- but she doesn't intend to change her ways.

"I'm not one to stay in the office all day and give out orders," she said.

Strand started working part-time at the landfill 10 years ago. She'd stopped in to unload some garbage and remarked that she lived fairly close by.

She was hired to help clean the ditches and fence around the landfill and eventually started with the billing and was trained to operate the compactor, front end loader and Bobcat.

The landfill takes in solid waste from Hazen, Beulah and Halliday, from individuals and from commercial garbage haulers that pick up for surrounding communities and rural routes.


The landfill takes in about $200,000 in annual revenue and last year handled about 15 tons of waste daily. The operation is separated into specific areas for household garbage, inert waste like yard waste or construction debris, and a steel pile for metal material that is periodically crushed and sold.

There also is an area for livestock, meat processing and animal disposal. Strand said it isn't easy to be the one who hitches up to pull someone's beloved horse off for burial.

"I tell them to just drive off. They shouldn't watch the animal getting bounced along on the ground," she said.

There's more to a landfill operation than meets the eye. Landfills by nature aren't the loveliest spots on earth, but their operation is regulated so they are safe for the environment and reasonably clean.

State rules and regulations are in place to prevent ground- and surface water contamination at landfills. The Mercer County landfill is surrounded by seven monitoring wells to test the groundwater.

Rules also dictate that solid waste pits have to be lined and garbage has to be covered every day with at least six inches of dirt.

"I don't know if it's difficult, but we do have work to do," Strand said. "We haul a lot of dirt."

Brad Torgerson, with the Waste Management Division program, said there aren't many Strands out there in the solid waste industry.


"It's been male-dominated for many years, but things are changing.

Who knows what it'll be in 20 years. A woman is as qualified as a man; the machines do the work," he said.

He said there have been some problems with the Mercer County landfill in past inspections. They primarily had to do with getting pits covered daily and for the longer term, though none of the problems rose to the level of a notice of violation.

Torgerson said an inspection in June found the situation had improved, and the most recent in December said, "The facility appears to be well maintained."

"There's a lot that she has to take care of to make sure the facility is following the rules," Torgerson said.

Strand lives less than a mile from the landfill, and downwind, too, in prevailing northwesterlies. Her family would be the first to be bothered by loose blowing garbage or bad smells and dust.

It's personal and professional for her.

She enjoys the job.

"Every day is kind of different, and I like to work outside. There's always something to do," Strand said.

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