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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Local Hauler Struggles to Stay Open in Midst of County Red Tape and Private Sector Take Over

Two months ago I sent a letter to each of the 50+ Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Haulers who are registered in Washington and Ramsey County warning them of the coming proposed changes to their industry by the Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Board. The letter informed them what the proposed changes are and that it's in their best interest to get involved before the vote on August 27th. I covered these impacts in the following op-eds:

Part 1: 7 to 2 vote, Washington/Ramsey County to Take Over Private Sector Garbage Processing
Part 2: The $170 Million Dollar Washington/Ramsey County Plan to Take Over Private Sector Garbage Processing
Part 3: Project Board Chair Fran Miron Responds to Concerns Regarding Trash Processing Facility Buyout

I received several replies, all from the small local haulers who feel the proposed changes are for the best interest of the Counties and large haulers and certainly not for the environment or residents. They went on to explain how the waste designation (or flow control) rule that will be put in place to only deliver MSW to what may become the Counties owned Garbage Processing Facility in Newport is most troubling Because:
1.) The facility is located in South Washington County and the mandate would create a monopoly to deliver to only that inconvenient location.
2.) Once the mandate is in place the Counties are planning to end the hauler rebate that currently levels the heavier tipping fees at the facility because the waste is sent out to be burned far away in Redwing or Mankato. (see the Part 2 article to understand the drastic cost increase)
3.) Once the government introduces itself into the private sector garbage industry they can implement even greater free market killing rules such as single hauler mandates.  This is when a single MSW hauler is chosen by the government to provide service to the residents, taking away their right to choose. Sound impossibly un-American? Look no further than May of 2015, where Bloomington is the latest city to attempt to implement this job killing rule as covered in the Star Tribune article: Single-hauler trash pickup plan rouses Bloomington residents 

However, one response I received took my belief that this was a new problem and turned it upside down. 


A gentleman named Dan Theobald, owner of Dan's Container Service in Newport, reached out to me to explain his struggle to stay open in the face of local red tape. Bureaucratic approval for multiple licenses with government systems that do not communicate with each other; oppressively complex and time-consuming appeals process where you are guilty until proven innocent; and any hair splitting, foot dragging, entity can have you shut down for weeks as a decision to allow a hauling business to operate is considered.

While his competition was busy dealing in volume and simply taking loads straight to the landfill. Mr. Theobald provided affordable rates with, what at the time was, revolutionary organization and efficiency. For decades he operated this way taking customer loads and separating them to maximize efficiently what was disposed, recycled, or composted. This practice not only helped his business, it helped the environment because containers weren't dumped in landfills regardless of their contents. Newport wasn't impressed and the city council minutes from the time prove their frustration with not being able to trespass on Mr Theobald's property to see if he was operating his business at his rural residential home.

It wasn't always this way for Mr. Theobald, he states. When he looked to start his Hauling and Container Service to provide recycling and disposal service to the area 45 years ago the City of Newport welcomed him. He confirmed before buying his rural property there that he could operate his business. He received permission and in 1977 he opened. Delivering containers (or some may call dumpsters) to customers to fill and followed disposal rules to the T. Things were great until 1990 when the city decided to crack down on a one size fits all rule against businesses operating out of residential properties. Mr Theobald was in the cross hairs.

Looking at Theobald's property, it is in an area that remains rural to this day, no one would know he used to park a couple trucks and a few of his containers on his land surrounded by thick woods down his long driveway. Not unlike any other American who would want to do the same in his situation. Why have a costly brick and mortar business front when you can have a phone and a dispatch from home? Contractors of all types enjoy this common sense, work from home, freedom.


When the city of Newport failed to shut Theobald down for over reaching charges of operating a business from his home they put a rule to not allow sorting and recycling south of I-494. In 1990 Newport served Mr Theobald a cease and desist order and lost in the County court. He thought it was the end of his troubles; however the City returned with Washington County who told him to get a license to operate a transfer station even though the County judge from his 1990 case ruled he could operate his business in this capacity. Despite holding on to his belief he was not technically a transfer station he agreed to get the extra license.  As transfer stations are typically large scale operations dealing with dozens of trucks coming and going every hour and heavy equipment separating waste. Mr Theobald knew it would cost more money to fight to explain the fact he was just hand sorting some of his containers... not operating a transfer station. So out of desperation he complied and obtained a "permit by rule" license from the State and a "Solid Waste Transfer Station" license from the County in addition to the hauling license he's maintained. 

Again, Mr Theobald thought he could move on and run his small business in Peace. He had every license a hauler could have and was faithfully renewing them and doing everything to meet or exceed government requirements. He even sold half the half of his business that did trash pickup opting to only operate his container service.
Occasionally State inspectors would come by on site because MPCA officials do not require a reason to inspect. I confirmed he's been in compliance with the MPCA at every inspection having at most given warning about cat liter, leaves, and some tires and later passed on re-inspection.
Through it all Mr Theobald and his business have survived, wanting only to provide for his family with a service the community needs in an environmentally conscious manner. He certainly doesn't complain. He only wishes to survive and work. In our talks he mentions nothing about the pain of the recession, the struggles with increasing federal mandates, or even his own health that has taken him away from working from time to time in recent years.

Yet what may be his life's work undoing is the fact Washington County denied his April hauling license application and his appeal. For 45 years he's maintained it and even kept the "transfer station" license active too. He reports the county hand delivered the denial of his hauling license aplication after four months on July 22nd for two reasons:
1.) "legal Entity Status" 
2.) for operating "a closed transfer station" 

After he sent an appeal on August 3rd to plead the following facts he was told on August 7th that he would have to wait for a hearing instead of simply getting an answer, or better yet, his license. 

1.) Dan's Container is in fact registered and in good standing with the Secretary of State and is a legal entity.  Mr Theobald states he was in good standing with the SOS today and when he first applied in April. Anyone can see that he's telling the truth:
https://mblsportal.sos.state.mn.us/Business/SearchDetails?filingGuid=98930dfd-8dd4-e011-a886-001ec94ffe7f

2.) Whether Mr Theobald has a closed transfer station or not should have nothing to do with obtaining a hauling license. However, when he applied in April it was active. He closed his "transfer station" in June. He's no different than any other citizen with a truck, insurance, and all the other requirements met who are applying for a hauling license. Especially if there is no evidence he's violating any laws.

Mr. Theobald states he is losing income everyday because he is unable to operate. A business he's owned for over 45 years, has a flawless reputation with his happy customers, and is now at serious risk of closing he states. Naturally, he's desperate to get back to work.

I brought all this evidence to the Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment who denied his ap. I asked: 
Can you or your office provide insight on why Mr. Theobald appears to be singled out like this? 

From the denial of his initial 2015 hauling license application in April all the way through the denial of it four months late in July, to his desperate appeal being answered four days later with notice he's being handed down the chain of command for a hearing on an unknown date.
[As of 8-20, Theobald reports he still does not have a hearing date]

Also:
If you insist he is not being singled out than why does it appear Mr. Theobald is having this horrible experience trying to work with your department to get his hauling license of 45 years back?

On August 14th, Jeff Travis, the Senior Program Manager responded:
"The data requested is classified as confidential civil investigative data by virtue of a pending contested case. Therefore no data is available to you at this time."

However, this is not a confidential case. Mr Theobald is desperate to get back to work and has turned to the public and wants to know why he can not have his hauling license or a hearing as soon as possible. Like anyone of us would in his situation.

If you were a blue collar worker in his shoes or his employee's shoes, would you be able to afford weeks without pay? 

This is how our Washington County treats one of it's hard working businesses who's been serving locally for over 45 years. He has a flawless record with his customers. I contacted some of his regulars and they state they use Dan's not just because he's about $100 more affordable than the competition, but that he goes the extra mile for his customers.

Please share Dan's story and help him get his business back.