Santa Rosa officials have told Amy's Kitchen that the company's expansion plans could trigger up to $34 million in water and sewer permit fees alone, a figure that stunned the company and has set off a furious effort to prevent it from once again expanding to Oregon instead of Sonoma County.
Earlier this year, officials at the Petaluma-based maker of frozen foods asked Santa Rosa officials to give them an estimate of the permit costs associated with a two-phase expansion plan that could eventually bring 800 additional jobs to the city.
The first phase proposed taking over a vacant food processing facility on southwest Santa Rosa previously home to G&G Specialty Foods, which closed in 2011.
The second phase involved building a much larger state-of-the-art food processing facility on 10 acres of pasture land owned by Jim Ratto, founder of the garbage company North Bay Corp.
The fees for the first phase were manageable — $3.3 million, according to Amy's CFO Mark Rudolph. But the figure for the second phase bowled them over.
"The one that was a show stopper for us was the one that they call the water demand fee," Rudolph said. "It came out to a huge number."
The city estimated that because of its high expected water and sewer usage, the company would have to pay an additional $31 million in fees for the second phase, for a total of $34 million in water and wastewater fees alone. That doesn't include millions more in fees for building permits, school impacts and property rezoning.
The city is working hard to help the company reduce its anticipated water use and thus its water and sewer fees.
Rudolph said Amy's is now very encouraged that those costs can come down significantly.
The initial estimates were so high because the company was proposing a new 250,000-square-foot processing facility that would need new large-volume connections to the city's water and sewer system.
All new construction pays such connection fees. For a typical small home, estimated to produce about 5,000 to 11,000 gallons of wastewater per month, one-time connection fees cost about $17,000.
But Amy's estimated that at full production it would be using 12 million gallons of water a month to make the company's food products, which includes a range of natural and organic foods from enchiladas and burritos to pot pies and pizzas.
That's a huge volume of water, so much that Santa Rosa is the only city with a water and sewer system large enough to handle such a demand, said David Gouin, the city's director of economic development and housing.
"The point we made to them is Santa Rosa's water infrastructure is the only one in the North Bay that can accommodate them," Gouin said.
By law the city can't waive water and sewer fees to encourage economic development. But it can work with companies to try to get their water and wastewater needs down, and that's exactly what the city is doing, Gouin said.
Engineers in the city's utilities department are working closely with Amy's to find ways the company can use less water and discharge less to the sewer system, said utilities director David Guhin.
From using less water for irrigation and equipment cleaning to treating and reusing wastewater on site, there are several techniques the company could use to save them big on those connection fees, Guhin said.