NE Minn. now dealing with a flood of trashby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
DULUTH, Minn. — The water is long gone from the storms that soaked Duluth and the North Shore last week, but another flood is rising in its place.
A river of trash is cresting this week, on its way from basements and garages to landfills in Wisconsin and Cloquet.
Greg Seaman hauled a diesel engine, a bed spring and a vacuum cleaner out of his mother's west Duluth basement.
"The sump pump went out so the whole basement got soaked," he said. "My mom's garage got full of mud, so I had to shovel that out for two days."
There are hundreds of stories just like that around Duluth and the surrounding towns. And so far, a lot of them are ending at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District's Materials Recovery Center in Duluth.
It's been ground zero for the debris left by last week's flooding, taking in trash from 530 square miles of St. Louis and Carlton counties, where nearly a foot of rain fell in some areas.
"We have heard incredible stories," said Karen Anderson, spokesman for the sanitary district. " 'I don't know who's truck topper this is, but it was in my yard.' "
And it's piled up in unprecedented volume. When the district announced last week that it was opening up its drop off site for flood debris free of charge, the line stretched for nearly half a mile at the gate.
"We have seen record numbers of people coming into the facility," Anderson said. "We've never handled more than 417 cars in a day, and just on Saturday, that very first day that we announced that we could give people a place to bring this material at no charge, we saw 578 cars come through."
They filled 20 dumpsters that day alone. They've also left behind a warehouse of crusty televisions, muddy refrigerators, ruined dishwashers and other appliances.
TONS OF DEBRIS SOUTH OF DULUTH
South of Duluth, in Carlton County, authorities report a similar response.
Dave Lee, the county's director of public health and human services, said Carlton County opened up its transfer station for free disposal of flood debris on Wednesday, and set up temporary drop off stations at Barnum and Cromwell.
Lee said state officials helping handle and regulate the flood of trash tell him it's unprecedented for a largely rural area.
"The amount of volume coming out of Carlton County would be what they see normally in a large city."
For now, he said, it's mostly sheetrock, insulation and other building materials being torn out of flooded basements. Appliances and electronics are also piling up.
And in a lot of ways, they're only getting started. Lee said that they're gearing up for a major demolition push, to get basements cleared out and the debris hauled away.
Officials are asking for volunteers to come to Carlton County to help over the next 10 days, mostly with debris removal.
Officials in both areas say they're still separating the debris — keeping household hazardous waste, appliances and electronics separate from plain garbage. They say the water ruined some recyclables, like cardboard and paper, but that they're otherwise handling the waste with the same care as any other time, trying to keep dangerous chemicals and recyclables out of landfills.
HELP FROM THE STATE
The state of Minnesota is already offering some help. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sent staff to work with the county and ramp up the capacity to handle trash.
"We relaxed regulations," said Heidi Kroening, a solid waste management supervisor in the MPCA's Duluth office. "We set up two temporary transfer stations. We are helping to staff the two temporary transfer stations, along with the permanent transfer station."
Kroening said the regulatory change was a temporary permit for the Shamrock landfill outside Cloquet, which usually only takes industrial waste.
The free drop off in Duluth ended Friday, although regular haulers now have a contract to pick up curb-side flood debris as well. Carlton County still has free drop off and pickup, but haven't decided yet when that will end.
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- All Things Considered, 06/29/2012, 4:50 p.m.