Economical Development Denied
At Wednesday nights Redway Community Service District monthly meeting, Josh realized that he is going to need to start counting his toes, for how many of these meeting he has attended. Lucky for him, he wasn't at it alone this time and was in the company of myself and great neighbor, friend and local business owner, Trent Sanders. As we sit and listen to the board meticulously go through the checking account and budget, I can't help think that these are some selfless dedicated folks. Who gives up so much of their free time for such a mundane task? Where is the glory in this?
My ears perk up and I can see both Josh and Trent take notice as well, as we come to the part of the agenda we have been waiting for, New Service Applications. This was the fourth time we have submitted our application, each time in the past we were told it was incomplete and that we needed finalized drawings. Not something that you come across for free. But in addition to our application, we had our request for clarification of our limits by two industry professionals, the firm that did the capacity study, Waterworks Engineering and Neal Carnem, a wastewater engineer located in Eureka.
The discussion began and before we were able to present any information from our perspective, our proposal was crushed. The decision had been made. No, No and No. It didn't matter the limits we were being asked to hit where not jiving with industry standards. It didn't matter that we offered to pay for all expenses for this discussion to take place. It didn't matter that the requested conversation to be non-binding. It was all NO. All of our attempts were shut down. The Ad Hoc board that made the recommendation to the rest of the board, repeatedly informed us that they had spent a great deal of time gathering information and researching this issue. But you have to wondering what was the Ad Hoc committee looking for when they themselves have told us that Economical Development is not necessarily the mandate of the RCSD board?
Therefore, we would like to take this opportunity, since we did not get the chance to at the board meeting, to present our side of the discussion. We have four different reason why would are asking the RCSD to allow engineers to determine Industrial Wastewater Discharge limits. This is a not limit just for a brewery, this is limits for all new Industrial Wastewater clients. Are you the one that wants to open a distillery? Are you the one that wants to produce paper? You might want to start paying attention here because this could crush your dream.
First Neal Carnem, who is also part owner of Mad River Brewing, has seen a situation similar to ours with the Mad River Brewery and Blue Lake municipality. Small service districts around the country face costly upgrades brought on by tighter state regulations, combined with population and economic growth. Carnam has a place in his heart for these districts and gets much satisfaction from being able to come up with cost effective upgrades that benefits the community as a whole. He looked over the capacity study and saw much potential and many possible inexpensive solutions in the RCSD wastewater facility. He wants to help.
The second reason we want these engineers to have a discussion is in regards to loading and concentration limits. The capacity study states, “It is the opinion of Waterworks Engineers … that these issues should be addressed before substantial service connections are made.” This is where Josh and I dig in and must know the answer to very important questions. What is substantial service? The soon-to-be retiring plant manager along with the Industrial Wastewater Ad Hoc board gave Josh and I a set of limits. We took these limits to John Mercer, a brewery wastewater consult that has been helping us through this process. He quickly pointed out that the numbers given to us in regards to loading, the pounds per day, were miscalculated. We relay this info to the RCSD and to their chagrin, they states that they were off in their calculations “by an order of magnitude.” They then dropped us down to the equivalent of two households or 1/10th of the original levels discussed. Why would we need an Industrial Wastewater Permit if we were only allowed to put waste into the system at these levels.
Then the third reason that we would like the RCSD to allow the engineers to come up with the limits is the concentration levels. It is well known that brewery waste has high concentrations of sugars, yeast and proteins. Protocol for wastewater facility is to add the high strength waste into the system at off peak times and very slowly to dilute it into the overall system. Again, looking at the limits that were given to us, we saw red flags when we tried to find out what average household concentration levels even looked like. We found a few examples we would like to share with you. The Brewer’s Association states that average household biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) concentration levels are usually under 400 mg.L. The National Environmental Services Center, a part of West Virginia University made our eyes popped open when they stated that average household BOD concentration levels are between 100-450 mg/L and for restaurants (which are exempt from industrial wastewater limits) 202-1985 mg/L. Then even the capacity study done for the RCSD by Waterworks Engineers states a typical range of 190-250 mg/L. Why are we being asked to come down to below 150 mg/L? One can assume there are many businesses and homeowners in the district that greatly exceed the limits offered to Gyppo Ale Mill without having to apply for an industrial wastewater permit.
And then lastly, just like the RCSD has dropped $30,000 dollars into the capacity study, Josh and I have dropped this if not more trusting the verbal agreement staff at the RCSD that they had the capacity and intention to service us. In hindsight, this was a huge business lesson for the two of us. But we still haven't learned our lesson. We have offered to pay for any of the fees that the engineers will accrue to find out if our brewery could possible come online. We want to ride this out. We feel like the Redway Community Service District owes it to us as well. We made the mistake of trusting them and spending money that we should not have, but how does this hurt them? This will take all blame of not allowing a new business to bring economic growth into the area with a new industry off of them. What is so bad about that?
Apparently there is something. From our perception, this is a very nervous board. They have a capacity study that says that they are maxed out but a potential business whose wastewater is known for high surcharges, that could bring a revenue stream to help supplement necessary upgrades. If they would just allow this conversation, a conversation between wastewater engineers to determine system limits, the pieces of this puzzle may come together. But they need the support of a community behind them. They are all alone up there trying to make these decisions. They need more than Josh, Trent and I trying to assure them that yes indeed, allowing this conversation to take place is not going to hurt them. If you feel like we do and want to see this situation played out by letting these engineers take a look at this, you are going to have to take some action. Write a letter to the board. Find out what the harm is in letting industry professional set limits specific to this wastewater facility. Send an email to the RCSD board and articulate your feeling on economic development and the future of Southern Humboldt. Or attend the next board meeting, usually held the third Wednesday of the month at 7pm. Speak during the public comment at the start of the meeting. You have 3 minutes to express your views. If you know the folks on this board, talk to them. Get their feedback on this situation. Give your feedback on the situation. Lets begin a dialogue about this issues that we as a community face together.
When Josh and I decided to try and open this business, we had no idea that getting sewer and water service would be this difficult. This is just one step at the beginning of a process and we have no idea what future obstacles hold. We are dedicated to the project and to this community. But.... we need your support. If you're in the service district, you will have the most impact. The ball is your court, let the board know that sustainable economical development is important to you and worth their time.