By Courtney Hughett
Many residents of Martin County do not really know who runs certain areas of the county. That's why, starting this week, the Martin County Journal will introduce you to these people who make a difference in our community - in all areas. This week, get to know Laura Albertson, your Martin County Recycling Center Director. The Martin County Recycling Center celebrated their 14th Anniversary last year with Albertson at the helm. Laura said she plans to serve as director of the Solid Waste Management District as long as the board of directors wants her to.
Laura was born in Tacoma, Washington; the second of six children. She grew up in a military family, often referred to as an Army Brat, and her family moved to a new location every three years. "I've been to castles in Bavaria, the Berlin Wall, I rode the trolleys in San Francisco, living beside the redwood forest, and attended an 'all white' high school in Louisiana, when integration started. I've lived in the shadow of NORAD and looked across the countryside from Pikes Peak. I would not trade my life for anyone else," she said. Her family still lives in Tacoma, except a brother, Steven, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama. Both of her parents are deceased.
Laura graduated from high school in Colorado, the same year her dad retired from the Army. Her family moved back to Tacoma and she moved to Washington D.C. and worked for the F.B.I. and attended a local college. "I was privileged to work on a famous case known as 'Watergate'," she said. Laura then met her husband-to-be, Mike, who was the navigator for the president's yacht, the Sequoia, under President Nixon. Mike was originally from Jasper, Indiana where they moved after getting married.
The Albertson's ended up buying the Wilson farm in Martin County, just outside of Loogootee, in 1978. Mike managed a feed mill in Bramble. "It was no big deal for me to move - but it was a big deal for Mike, he loved 'his hometown' of Jasper, and the high school classmates that he had bonded with for many years. I actually had lived in one place a little too long already," Laura added.
Laura said that they still live in the country on that little farm and she no longer gets the urge to pack up and move, although she would like to move into town.
Mike and Laura have three daughters: Carrie, Brooke, and Kelly, now grown and off living their own lives.
Her career path started in 1991 when the State of Indiana passed a bill, HEA 1240, which tasked counties to manage their solid waste, by reduction of what went into landfills. Laura was asked to serve on a citizens' advisory committee being formed to assist in designing a program for Martin County to satisfy the HEA 1240 requirements, and later if she was interested in overseeing the state approved 20-year plan. "My children were all in school and this program seemed to be perfect for me; I was very interested," she said. The new Martin County Solid Waste Management District board of directors established a tax levy, which would help with funding the programs mandated by the state. She set up an office at her house and started a small collection route using her car and storing materials in her garage, which would last two years, until the tax levy actually generated money for the solid waste district and the recycling center was built.
Laura said the type of building they needed they could not afford and she heard about the Federal Surplus program that had a long list of items for sale and she was interested in the wood. Members could load up trucks and trailers full of wood and purchase it for next to nothing. "We could build what we needed with that used wood, so I signed up," she said. The center was built using the wood from bomb crates that were coming back from the Desert Storm War. Ernie Mathies, a board member, and Laura would go to Crane every week and load the scrap wood into Ernie's truck and a borrowed trailer and bring it back to Loogootee. The final bill for purchasing all the wood needed other than the trusses and support beams came to $80. D.C. Metal agreed to build the center using the scrap wood that had the nails pulled out. They recycled 15 five-gallon buckets of nails.
The closest place that was processing collected materials for recycling was Bloomington, but they would not pay anything for their materials. To have a program, the county needed money to at least cover collection expenses. The Martin County Recycling Center would collect, process, and market their own materials, but due to Martin County's sparse population, they would need materials from outside of the county. The share program was then created. The center would collect what they could and purchase materials from anyone willing to deliver materials, based on the market pricing. From that, the program has grown and evolved into what it is today.
Laura said that she feels like Martin County is a cleaner place to live, and the citizens are making a positive impact on the environment by participating in the recycling program. "I love Martin County, it is a safe place to live and send our children to school. Loogootee has that small town charm; people here care about each other and their families. I read a saying someplace that is fitting for Loogootee, 'We have no problems here- only opportunity.' Growth is good as long as we do not lose our personality, like other communities around us have," she said.
The recycling program is a program managed by the Solid Waste Management District Board of Directors. By Indiana law, the board of directors is made up of some of the county's elected officials. The current board of directors consists of the three Martin County Commissioners, Dan Gregory, Paul George, and John Wininger; a member of the Martin County Council, Richard Summers; the Mayor of Loogootee, Don Bowling; a member of the Loogootee City Council, Joe Mattox; and a member of the Shoals Town Board, Robert Abel. Through evolution of time and elections many people have served on the board. It is the board of directors that approves the spending of funds and their ultimate decision regarding the details of certain programs offered to our citizens.
"We have enjoyed the fact that our recycling center has made money. The money we make has everything to do to the employees that work at the center; we collect, sort, and process the widest variety of materials in the state of Indiana," said Laura. Materials come in as a type of trash and go out as the highest quality of materials to recycle a mill can get. "I do the marketing, wheeling and dealing, and oversee all the employees and designed all the programs we offer. We are often offered money above the yellow sheet due to the high quality we produce," she added.
The recycling center continues to require and collect a tax levy as security to keep the programs going. Currently, the tax levy is a little over four cents per hundred dollar value. That means property owners are paying about four cents to the recycling program for every hundred dollars of value of their property per year. The tax levy generates about $130,000 a year. "It takes more than $600,000 a year to keep our doors open, the other half million dollars needed is made by selling recycle materials, and we have been fortunate the markets have stayed up longer than down," Laura said. In the past years the center has made money, and that money has been shared and paid for some important programs that this county would not have had if it were not for the recycling program. (See sidebar for contributions made by the center.)
When asked about the future of the recycling center Laura said she wishes she had a crystal ball so she would know the center will be okay through the tough times. "Not only is our program hinging on what the markets are doing, but also every year Solid Waste Districts are thrown a curve ball from the state legislators, taking away, wanting to change and disband the districts and our programs, which they created in the first place. So far, they have not had enough votes to get the job done," she said.
She added that she always wishes more Martin County citizens would recycle. "Just think of the program we could have if everyone would recycle!" she noted.
Laura said she always hoped there would be spin-off businesses created in Martin County utilizing some of the materials they collect for recycling; for instance, making insulation out of newspaper, making stepping stones, lumber, and other items out of plastic bottles. There is one spin-off business that has started; Seals Tires located on Hwy 231 South, is processing automobile and truck tires for disposal. "I would like to see our recycling center or highway department partner with Seals Tires to crumb the tires and pave our roads with," she said. "There are millions of tires in Southern Indiana and we have many miles of roads that could use a new surface. We all pay a disposal fee for tires, why not have that money come to Martin County."
The Martin County Solid Waste has received the following awards since its inception: Pollution Prevention Community Award from NSWC Crane, Southern Indiana Rural Development project, a success story; Governor's Award for Excellence in Recycling, Governor's Award for Household Hazardous Waste - group award, Governor's award for mercury awareness - group award, Governor's Award for Recycling, in that Martin County accepts the widest variety of materials than any public or private business in Indiana; Best Design rear loader truck-"Waste Age Magazine", a national publication.
The center is listed as one of the top three best programs in the state of Indiana, as determined by an independent study done by a consulting group from Wisconsin. The center has also had many mayors from all over the state make special trips to visit the center, as well as Senator Richard Luger. 
In a final note Laura said, "There are great opportunities awaiting solid waste management in this country - only to be thought of. Everything ever created starts out as a thought. We need to protect our air and water; without clean air and water there is no life." For more information about the recycling program in Martin County call Laura at 295-4142.
Money given by the recycling center:
-$50,000 cash match for the Crane North Project. (This was a cash match for a grant to clean up the Brownfield on Martin County's property that is now part of the Westgate Tech Park)
-$10,000 ( cash match for grant funding To the city of Loogootee to clean up the creek going through the city)
-$5,500 to the Martin County Community Foundation, another cash match for the City of Loogootee for downtown infrastructure improvements.
-$26,750 to the Martin County Auditor to provide funds to pay the salary of an Economic Development Coordinator.
-$11,000 to Martin County Commissioners to assist in development of a 911 telephone system.
-$30,000 to the Martin County 911 telephone fund.
-$1,100 for printing of the 911 Martin County maps. (2,000 maps printed)
-$2,310 for the Town of Crane to have new 911 street signs
-$6233 for the City of Loogootee to have 911 street signs
-$864 for the Town of Shoals to have 911 street signs
-$10,000 to the Martin County Health Department to purchase a generator to be placed at the community building at the 4-H fairgrounds.
-$15,000 to install the 911 emergency phone service
-$6,000 to Martin County Partnership for Economic Growth.
-$400  or more every year to pay for a clean-up dumpster for the Catfish Festival
-Gifted a pick-up truck to the Martin County Highway Department and another one to the Town of Shoals.
-$200,000 loan (to be paid back) to the Martin County Redevelopment Commission.
Getting to Know Series, Story #1 Laura Albertson, Martin County Solid Waste Director