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Kandiyohi County, Minn.,begins work with company to chip brush into mulch, ending spring and fall burns

Troy Clabo, from Creekside Soils in Hutchinson, feeds branches and tree trunks into a wood chipper that’s turning the trunks into mulch. “We want to reuse stuff as much as we can and that’s what we’re doing,” said Clabo, while loading huge grapple-forks full of brush into the mouth of the massive wood chipper. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange 2 / 2

NEW LONDON — For decades mounds of tree trunks, branches and brush at the Kandiyohi County brush pile were disposed of in spring and fall infernos.

The flames lasted a couple days but the embers stayed hot for weeks, putting adjoining private property and the nearby county landfill at risk of catching on fire, said Jeff Bredberg, the county environmental services director.

But Bredberg had other concerns with the practice of torching the brush.

“I always felt so guilty burning it. I felt there had to be another use,” said Bredberg, who is pleased the county is now working with a Hutchinson company that is in the process of chipping the brush into mulch.

Semitrailer loads of the shredded wood is being transported to Hutchinson, and then colored and sold for landscaping under the brand name CreekSide.

“We’re trying to do the right thing,” said Bredberg. “This is a good use for it.”

The county’s emphasis on recycling meshed well with CreekSide, which is owned by the city of Hutchinson as a profit-generating business.

“We want to reuse stuff as much as we can and that’s what we’re doing,” said CreekSide’s Troy Clabo, who was loading huge grapple-forks full of brush into the mouth of a massive wood chipper Thursday at the county brush site.

For a couple years, a Granite Falls company processed Kandiyohi County’s brush that was then incinerated at Fibrominn in Benson. The biomass plant burns turkey litter and other biofuels to generate electricity.

But Bredberg said for some reason that option was eliminated and — as the brush pile grew — the county looked for a new outlet rather than be forced to again burn the pile.

“We’d been stockpiling material for the last year,” said Bredberg. “We were running out of space at the brush site.”

Bredberg said he made contact with CreekSide after talking to Willmar city officials, who were familiar with Hutchinson’s municipally owned company.

The work is being done at no cost to the county, it generates revenue for the city of Hutchinson and it provides a usable product for gardeners.

“It’s a good use for the material,” said Bredberg. “It’s a good deal for us and for them.”

Given the possibilities of cold-weather breakdowns, Clabo could not estimate how long it will take to grind up the large pile of brush. Bredberg estimated it would take at least a week and that the pile would generate 30 to 40 semitrailer loads of chipped wood.

Once workers are done with the pile here, they will move the equipment to other communities, said Clabo.

CreekSide also collects grass and leaves in various communities, including in the Twin Cities. That material is turned into compost and a variety of potting soil that is bagged and sold under the CreekSide name.

Leaves and grass are also collected at the Kandiyohi County landfill in an area that is separate from the brush site, but Bredberg said the county uses that material to cover garbage at the landfill each day.

“It’s more valuable to us as daily cover,” said Bredberg.

He said the county’s compost pile is not maintained and screened like the one in Willmar and is better suited for landfill use rather than for gardens. In Willmar, residents can take compost for use on gardens. The city also chips brush brought to that site that residents can take for personal use.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750