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Rick Lancaster, vice president of generation at Great River, said he was particularly interested in hiring Forschler because he had done some work for the company a decade earlier; it never crossed their minds, he said, that McLaughlin’s tie to the firm would give them favor.
“We needed to get into a discussion quickly with Hennepin County to take over this contract. … We had heard that [Forschler] knew people at the county and could help us arrange meetings and get in the door there,” Lancaster recalled.
Plants required more trash
Great River made its pitch to the county in January 2010, noting that its Elk River operation’s “long term viability [was] dependent on receiving additional municipal solid waste,” records show. County officials resisted some of Great River’s proposals, such as increasing tipping fees at the county incinerator to help subsidize its own operation.
The company formally closed on its purchase of the Elk River processing plant in the spring, and the following year, in April 2011, commissioners approved a $9 million agreement through 2012 to send garbage to Great River. The tipping fee in the new contract was slashed dramatically, to $54 a ton.
Those moves were in line with state policies that favor local governments burning waste rather than landfilling it, and the county incinerator in north Minneapolis doesn’t have enough room for all of the county’s trash.
McLaughlin, already a longtime and influential voice on the board, has had the most authority on trash issues because they go through the committee he chairs. He voted for the agreement that April at the full board meeting, and at the committee meeting that preceded it.
In April 2012, McLaughlin voted for Hennepin County’s 20-year solid waste plan, which states, “The county has an interest in continuing its deliveries to Great River Energy’s (GRE) Elk River Resource Processing Plant. The county will negotiate a contract to extend deliveries beyond 2012.”
In January 2013, McLaughlin motioned for a vote on, and supported, a $3 million agreement with Great River through June 30.
McLaughlin also took a series of votes in the last few years awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in recycling contracts to Network for Better Futures, a nonprofit that connects at-risk men with jobs, where Hylden has been a registered lobbyist since 2008. Hylden said she lobbies for the organization at the legislative level, however, and is not involved in the county contract.
(Hylden is also a registered lobbyist for the Star Tribune.)
McLaughlin said he doesn’t keep track of his wife’s clients. Hylden said her husband doesn’t come home every night and say, ‘I’m going to make decisions on x, y, and z, do you care about that?’ ”
On the contract up for a vote this week, officials say Great River hasn’t used Faegre Baker Daniels to help. Earlier lobbying paved the way for Great River, according to Lancaster, and “we have the relationships that we need now with the staff, which we didn’t have before.”
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210