$3 million upgrade planned at county landfill

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Flathead County is embarking on a $3 million upgrade of the county landfill that includes an overhaul of the grounds and scale system.

The county commissioners recently green-lighted the first $2 million of the project as a capital improvement outlay for the Flathead County Solid Waste District in the county’s fiscal 2020 budget. The remaining $1 million for the second phase of landfill construction will be penciled into the fiscal 2021 budget.

According to Public Works Director, Dave Prunty, the bulk of the project at the landfill entails reconstructing the entrance to the landfill and a shifting of all trash and recycling stations, with the exception of the junk-vehicle area for the time being, from the south side of the entrance to the north side.

The project includes resurfacing, clearing of the land on the north side, additional containers and more. Prunty said the move is largely due to the landfill expanding and encroaching on various drop-off sites.

“As the landfill grows, it’s eventually going to move into most of that south area. So we wanted to make the shift well before that happens,” Prunty said. “A landfill is a good indicator of a growing economy. So with an economy like ours, which is booming, naturally there is going to be more waste.”

Located off U.S. 93 north of Kalispell, the new landfill point of entry will be split into three lanes in an effort to better organize incoming traffic. Prunty said the three lanes will divide into a commercial truck lane, a general contractor lane and one for the container sites and recycling.

“One of the main drivers for this project is that in recent years we have seen the entry line to get to the scale sometimes back up onto the actual highway into traffic,” Prunty said.

The scale house and weigh-in and weigh-out scales, which every vehicle has to individually approach, will also be upgraded. Prunty said the system in place now is slow and outdated on the digital side of things, which sometimes causes a headache for employees and a backup in traffic.

The first phase of the construction will begin July 8 and is expected to be mostly wrapped up before winter. Prunty said the construction team plans on working after hours, beginning at 5 p.m. most days, so time delays moving in and out of the facility should be limited. Prunty said when finished, the upgrades should withstand the Flathead Valley’s growth for at least the next two decades.

“This is a big project, both in scope and dollar figure,” Prunty said. “Our landfill has space for 100 years and we look at a 20-year horizon for a project like this.”

The Solid Waste District pulls money for such projects from what is known as an “enterprise fund” that is separate from any tax-generated general fund. According to Prunty, there are numerous utility-type fees that contribute to the fund, including an $80.73 annual usage fee that is charged to every “habitable unit” in the county and trash pick-up charges for businesses.

“We are happy to say that we haven’t raised our rates in 10 years,” Prunty said. “We have a solid revenue system and are able to do these projects when we save and budget accordingly.”

If the Solid Waste District wishes to raise those fees, the change must be approved by the commissioners.

Another county capital improvement project for the coming fiscal year is an $800,000 earmark for salt and sand facilities for the Flathead County Bridge and Roads Department.

According to Prunty, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality requires that active pits have “impervious bottoms and tops,” so that salt, sand and other materials used to maintain roads in the winter months aren’t left to the elements.

The two new buildings will be stationed at the department’s home-base pit at the Old Steel Bridge in Kalispell. The county is providing about $480,000 of the total expense in this year’s fiscal budget and Prunty said the remaining funds for construction were rolled-over monies from the department’s fiscal 2019 budget.

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake,com

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