Fort Dodge landfill and recycling operation provides service to six-county area
The North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency is a twofold entity that’s seen significant growth in its operations during the past 15 years. One part involves a regional landfill, which went into operation in the early 1990s, the other is a regional recycling center that’s been collecting reusable materials since 1990.
Each day, more than 300 tons of trash and recyclable materials make their way to Fort Dodge where they’re dumped and sorted at the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency. Recyclable materials eventually are moved to other locations to be turned into usable materials, but the bulk of the trash is placed and covered over in the landfill area.
The total tonnage has increased considerably since the landfill opened operations in the early 1970s. At that time, it only served Webster County, drawing most of its garbage from the city of Fort Dodge. Today, the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency serves all or parts of six counties — a population base of nearly 79,000 — and handles close to 100,000 tons of materials per year.
“It’s a lot of material to deal with, but we’re proud of how efficiently it’s handled,” said Director Gary Schmidt. “It takes a combined effort of everyone here to make it happen, plus a lot of careful planning to make sure we meet
At the same time recycling operations began, Schmidt was hired as Director to manage onsite operations. With the amount of material coming in continuing to grow, the agency made longtime employee Deb Watson the Assistant Director last year. In addition to her duties as office manager, she oversees the recycling end of the agency’s efforts.
Watson serves as Secretary/Treasurer of the 11-member Executive Board that oversees all aspects of the agency, including such items as the budget. “The recycling operations are here in the building where I am, so it’s natural for me to be in that role and Gary takes care of the outside operations at the landfill. It’s a nice mix.”
Recycling efforts grow
Watson estimates the recycling center takes in about 6,500 cubic yards of recyclable items each month. It doesn’t collect materials, but serves as a dropping point for area counties, cities and private individuals.
“It comes to us in everything from pickups to recycling trailers,” Watson related. “Drop boxes are scattered around, and someone regularly collects those and brings them to us. Our goal is to increase the amount of recyclable materials coming to us each month. They do a very good job of separating materials out, so our work in doing that is minimal. The nice thing is, we don’t charge for bringing those materials in. We believe that’s incentive and encouragement to recycle.”
The facility takes in corrugated cardboard, newsprint, magazines, tin cans, plastic containers and glass. Once on site, 14 fulland part-time workers do final sorting and processing. Brokers then pick up the materials and take them elsewhere for further processing.
Employees play a vital role
Watson noted that several of the workers at the recycling facility come from an area agency that works with special-needs individuals. She applauded their efforts and touted the work done by all employees. Landfill operations involve two shifts, one of which comes in early morning to get machinery fueled up and started before beginning work. The second comes in a couple hours later.
“Between the recycling center and the landfill operations, we have about 22 employees who are highly efficient and very hardworking,” said Schmidt. “Several have been here a decade or more, and we believe that’s a big advantage to us. It helps us be more productive and keeps costs down as much as possible.”
The landfill staff performs numerous tasks at the landfill site, which is located just across the road from the agency’s office and recycling center. In addition to taking in and burying trash, the landfill staff is involved with earthmoving operations at the 300-acre site.
“There’s a lot more to running a landfill than just handling waste materials,” Schmidt pointed out. “As we run out of space in one cell, we have to be prepared to open another. That means getting a permit for expansion, and once that’s in place, we have to do the necessary excavation to open it up. It can be a lengthy process. We’re developing a cell about every other year, and to this point we’ve used or been approved for about 40 acres out of the total site.”
Preparing a new cell takes careful planning to ensure all state regulations and requirements are met. The regional landfill faces a special challenge because the site contains gypsum deposits that were undermined years ago. All the gypsum has to be removed before the landfill can begin cell construction. Operations start by removing overburden to within two feet of the gypsum deposits, which often are 25 feet or more deep.
“We move a tremendous amount of dirt every year just to get to within two feet of the deposit,” Schmidt said. “Once we’re there, an outside contractor comes in and takes the last two feet off and removes the gypsum. Our crew takes over again when they’re finished. We put in a fivefoot clay liner and tile to collect and recirculate leachate. Then we put 20 inches of shredded tires on top of that to act as a drainage layer. The trash goes in next, followed by dirt cover and seeding. As we’re opening one cell, the dirt from that is usually going to close another.”
Komatsu equipment boosts productivity
To move massive amounts of material quickly, the North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency recently invested in several pieces of Komatsu equipment, purchased from Road Machinery and Supplies with the help of Sales Representative Doug Miller. The agency’s purchase included two 389-horsepower HM350 articulated haul trucks that are paired with a PC400LC-6 excavator.
“The combination of excavator and trucks has increased our production by about 125 percent compared to using scrapers alone, which had been the norm,” said Schmidt. “We decided to go with those because we had a large amount of dirt to move in a hurry, and the haul was longer than normal. It’s more efficient, and our ability to work in adverse conditions is better. The trash doesn’t stop when it rains or snows, and the trucks and excavator will work in those situations where scrapers can’t. They also will haul 25 percent more than the scrapers, and they’re twice as fast. The operators like them because the ride is much smoother and quieter.”
To push large quantities of dirt and rip frost, the landfill employs a new 354-horsepower Komatsu D155AX-6 Sigma Dozer with the patented Sigma Dozer blade. “The blade is utterly amazing,” exclaimed Schmidt, who often runs the machine. “Its shape forces the material to the center of the blade as opposed to the standard U-shape, so I can easily push 50 percent more than before with a machine that size. Plus, the fuel efficiency is tremendous. For a dozer that size, one would expect to use 13 to 15 gallons an hour, but we’ve been around 10 to 11 in most instances.”
Trash at the site is divided into two areas: municipal solid waste and construction and demolition debris. Each area is armed with a Komatsu D65EX-15SL landfill dozer that’s equipped with extra guarding and plating for the often rugged conditions. Additional machinery at each site includes Bomag landfill compactors, also purchased from RMS. “We had a D65 prior to buying the two new ones, and it performed exceptionally well,” Schmidt said. “It worked exclusively in the construction and demolition area, which can be very hard on a machine. We put 12,000 hours on it and didn’t replace anything other than normal wear items. That helped us in deciding to go with Komatsu this time around. We expect these new machines will give us thousands of hours too.
“Product support is every bit as important to us as the quality of machinery,” Schmidt continued. “RMS has been excellent. Gary Buttz is without a doubt the most dedicated service technician I have ever seen. The deeper the mud and greasier the machine, the more he seems to like it. I've even called him on Saturdays when he's out deer hunting, but if we have an emergency, he's willing to come fix it.”
The North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency came into existence as tighter state regulations forced smaller landfills to close. Schmidt foresees that continuing, which would mean even more materials coming to Fort Dodge. “I believe it will probably happen,” he predicted. “Fort Dodge is centrally located, so it was a natural fit for a regional landfill and recycling center. It’s likely that we’ll grow more as the years go by.”