FL Council agrees to keep city compost site open for time being

The Forest Lake City Council agreed to keep the city’s compost site open during its Feb. 10 meeting, giving it at least one more season before discussions could resume again on what to do with the site. 

After receiving a recommendation by Public Works Supervisor Dave Adams at the Oct. 21, 2019, council meeting to shut down the site in favor of residents using a free site that Washington County opened in Hugo, the council voted Oct. 28 to table a decision about whether to keep the site open in 2020. The council solicited a survey, in which the response was “overwhelming” for support in keeping it open, according to council members.

Forest Lake has been operating its compost site off of U.S. Highway 61, south of downtown, free to city residents since 2016, following a legal battle with former private site operator Buberl. In 2017, the county entered talks with the city to take over the Forest Lake site, but those negotiations fell through (only two of the five members from that City Council are still on the body today). Adams’ recommendation at the Oct. 21 meeting came with the purpose to save the city money and staff time, noting the city spends about $20,000 to $35,000 per year on the site, not counting the staff hours – an estimated 750 to 900 annually. The $20,000 to $35,000 includes three seasonal employees who work at the compost site throughout its open season, which begins in April.

All four of the council members present at the Feb. 10 meeting (Kelly Monson was absent) said that they were now against the closure of the Forest Lake compost site after receiving results from a survey sent to local residents about the topic, as well as informal discussions with area residents. 

“The survey spoke volumes to me about the will of the citizens,” council member Kathy Bystrom said. “Given what I’ve seen both in terms of percent in disagreement [of closing the site] and comments, I personally cannot support both closure and requirement that our citizens utilize the Hugo site.”

Mayor Mara Bain noted how the discussion of the site’s possible closure came at a time when key areas of the city’s waste management decisions affected citizens. The initial conversation surrounding the compost site closure came at the same time the city was transitioning to a new trash service company, through which a yard waste service option increased costs for most residents as a part of that contract.

“I, too, was in support of [the closure] and taking the opportunity to eliminate the duplication of services, but I think there’s enough unknowns. … We asked for feedback and it’s come back loudly through the survey and informal comments,” Bain said. 

Council member Paul Girard also said he initially was in favor of the closure of the site, but, for the same reasons, changed his position.

“It was probably the most feedback I’ve gotten about anything we’ve looked at changing,” Girard said. 

Girard also brought up the concern many residents had that Washington County has a three-year lease for its Hugo site, and residents are worried that after that lease ends, Washington County will move that site to much farther away, a concern other council members shared.

“Right now I’d lean to let’s leave it open at least another year and see if we can get more clarity,” Girard said. 

While the discussion to keep the compost site open next season required no formal action, the council will be continuing to converse with the county about future opportunities for partnership.

“I’d like us to keep options on the table, and if there’s opportunity for Forest Lake to be the permanent site, let’s keep the conversation going,” Bain said. “But I think there’s enough risk and enough public concern we owe it to keep it open for this next season.”

The Forest Lake compost site is open April through November and is free to Forest Lake residents.

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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