Strands celebrate company’s 50th year
The demand is constant and the collection dates are scheduled, yet just about everything else in the refuse collection industry has changed over Forest Lake Sanitation’s 50-year existence.
Gary Hoefler in 1964 started the company that has been owned by Cameron and Marge Strand since 1985.
Forest Lake Sanitation’s current contract with the city of Forest Lake expires July 30, and while renegotiation is underway, the city is also negotiating with an out-of-town provider.
The Strands hope the company’s local roots are factored into the City Council’s decision this spring.
The Strands were no strangers to the line of work when they purchased Forest Lake Sanitation 29 years ago.
Wyoming Township in 1969 moved a landfill to the property of Cameron’s father.
“It had a coffee can on the top of a milk can, like a mailbox, and people left money there if they felt they dumped something that required some payment,” Marge Strand said. “And if they felt like they dropped something that had some value, they took money. There was no attendant, so it was really on the honor system to start out with.”
The family ran the landfill until 1990, when the opening of a burning facility in Newport diverted traffic.
Meanwhile, Cameron Strand had purchased several garbage routes in Chisago County when demand made the work more than a part-time job for farmers and their cattle trucks.
His collection business, Town & Country Disposal, grew to the point he left his job as an electrician. The purchase of Forest Lake Sanitation from the Saari family in 1985 doubled the Strands’ workload. They kept the Forest Lake Sanitation staff intact and a son of the former owner remains on staff to this day.
“It’s just kind of grown since then,” Marge Strand said.
No routes have been added, but the expansion of the area has been matched by the company. SRC, the corporation that encompasses Forest Lake Sanitation and Town & Country Disposal, today serves 10,000 residential customers, owns a fleet of 25 trucks and employs 30 workers.
The Strands started with two-man, manual-loaded trucks for residential collection. Concerns for worker safety due to the risk of slipping prompted a move to automated trucks in the late 1980s. Side-loading trucks now make their rounds Monday through Friday.
SRC has been contracted for residential collection in Forest Lake since 1989, but residents in its other communities can choose their provider.
“We have competition all the time in the rest of the areas that we service,” Strand said.
She disputes numbers the city has released that indicate Forest Lake residents would save an average of $65 per year under a contract from SRC’s competitor. Strand said the amount is actually about $2.50 per month, or “a cup of coffee.”
SRC also provides commercial refuse disposal. This area has been difficult, Strand said, because large businesses often have companywide contracts with national haulers.
SRC uses trucks with front-loading forks for commercial collection. Its commercial containers lock to combat illegal dumping by residents looking to avoid paying for refuse service.
“The garbage bill’s the last one to be paid,” she said. “You pay your cellphone bill, you pay your house payment, you pay your car payment, you have fuel to get to work, and you pay your cable bill probably before you pay your garbage bill. It’s the bottom of the totem pole.”
The advent of recycling has proven another significant challenge for the Strands.
“It’s been very, very difficult,” she said.
SRC runs a recycling center by its office at the site of the former landfill on East Viking Boulevard in Wyoming.
It began offering sorted curbside service in the late 1980s. Single-stream, automated collection began the following decade due to rising demand and concerns for the safety of workers who previously lifted filled containers over their head.
Sorting the recyclable materials is a challenge taken on by several employees who run conveyer belts at the center. If loads are contaminated with non-recyclable materials when SRC brings them to brokers and markets, the trucks may be reloaded and turned away.
Finding takers for materials can also be difficult. Prices of oil affect the amount SRC can get for recycled plastic. Once the company had to stockpile paper when the only local recycler temporarily stopped taking shipments.
The Strands are proud of their company’s local emphasis. Many employees have been on board for more than 15 years. All four of their children worked for SRC, as have many of their grandchildren.
“We live here, we work here, we employ people here, we contribute back to the community,” Strand said.