Restaurants object, Fort Bragg reconsiders strict water rules

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Fort Bragg officials will be reconsidering some of the strict emergency water rules they implemented last week following a flurry of objections from restaurateurs, who say ordering them to use only paper plates and plastic utensils is expensive, counterproductive and unfair.

Some of the water-saving rules placed on other businesses are mere requests, rather than orders, eatery owners say.

“Restaurants are the only business singled out,” said Nicholas Petti, the owner/chef of Mendo Bistro. “Hotels were told to try to do less laundry; They weren’t told to put paper sheets on beds.”

He said he has no plans to start using paper plates until at least Tuesday, when the Fort Bragg City Council is scheduled to discuss the rules.

The strict phase 3 emergency water rules were adopted last week when flows in the Noyo River, which supplies 30 percent of the city’s water, fell so low they were unable to hold back salt moving upriver from the ocean, which forced the city to halt its use. The regulations also include bans on filling hot tubs, irrigation and washing of cars or pavement.

Mayor Dave Turner said city residents and businesses already have reduced water use by 15 percent since the emergency order was implemented last week.

“People have been great. They’ve stepped up,” he said.

That includes a number of restaurants, some of which began using paper and plastic before the Wednesday deadline. Most of the paper plates are expected to be composted.

At Egghead’s Restaurant on Main Street, the owners put up signs explaining the paper and plastic ware. Owner Becky Parrish said it’s been difficult finding paper plates that won’t collapse during use, but customers have been supportive.

Rosa Saldana, a waitress at Café 1, which serves organic food, said its customers have been pleased with the extra effort to save water.

“Our customers are pretty conscious about saving water,” she said.

Petti and other owners of primarily larger and upscale restaurants, which cater to people seeking a fine dining experience, are less accepting of the rules.

“People don’t want a $12 glass of wine in a paper cup,” Petti said.

It’s also difficult to find paper plates that can hold up to hot, heavy and wet entrées, like steak and salmon with sauces, said Jim Hurst, owner of Silvers at the Wharf and Point Noyo.

“They’ve got to have some weight” or they’ll bend and the food will fall to the floor, he said.

Hurst said he’s now serving soup and desserts on disposable dinnerware, but not the entrées.

He said using paper and plastic also is expensive. Each setting costs $3.50, cutting into the restaurant’s profit margin, which is only 6 percent, Hurst said. He’s figured that it will cost him $1,100 a week just for salad plates and soup cups and bowls.

Hurst and Petti say the city should let them decide how to cut their water use.

Petti plans to use an air compressor to blow the grime off dishes before washings. Hurst saves ice and checks his toilets for leaks daily. Their dishwashers use only about 1.5 gallons per wash.

“I think there are better ways to save water,” Hurst said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter

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