After two major food processing businesses in Petaluma said they may be forced to leave town due to the cost and difficulty of disposing of their wastewater, the Petaluma City Council directed staff to actively pursue ways to better accommodate such users.
Just days after the council made analyzing the sewer plant a priority at its annual goal setting session last Saturday, Public Works Director Dan St. John had already been given the go-ahead to study the plant's ability to handle food processors' waste and find solutions.
After news surfaced that, for many food processors, the cost is prohibitive to pretreat their waste to a level the Ellis Creek Wastewater Recycling Facility can accept — despite a call to recruit these types of businesses in the city's Economic Development Strategy — city staff and several local businesses began looking for solutions to present to the City Council.
Currently, businesses that produce high density waste — like food, beverage and industrial users — can dispose of their waste at the city's plant after they've pretreated it to acceptable plant levels, which are kept stringent in an effort to protect the environment from harmful discharge. Or, they can truck their untreated waste to another municipality that will accept it. Both options come at a high cost to the businesses, and while companies say they're willing to pay their fair share, some contend that the current costs are simply too high for them to bear.
At the council's goal setting session, representatives from Straus Family Creamery, Cowgirl Creamery and the Alvarado Street Bakery all shared their concerns, with both Straus and Cowgirl saying the city's current wastewater fees and regulations were forcing them to consider leaving Petaluma.
For Straus, which employs about 100 people and currently has its offices in Petaluma and its processing plant in Marshall, the problem is expansion. According to Straus Chief Operating and Financial Officer Bob McGee, the creamery is looking to combine its two facilities into one location in late 2014 or early 2015. But to bring its food processing plant, which produces high density waste, to Petaluma, McGee said Straus would be facing approximately $1 million in initial costs to connect to the sewer system and build a pretreatment facility.