The sewer debate goes on

Because the city's 3-year-old wastewater treatment plant currently does not process untreated, high density waste from Petaluma's food processing users — despite the fact that the city's General Plan specifically calls for the growth of those industries — city staff and local business leaders are looking for ways to address the growing need in the hopes that the City Council will make it a goal at its upcoming goal setting session.

The evaluation of the plant comes on the heels of news that, while the state-of-the-art and environmentally cutting-edge plant is doing its job of producing treated wastewater that far exceeds state requirements for cleanliness, it does not take high density waste produced by many of the food processing and industrial businesses in town if that waste hasn't been pre-treated to a certain level first.

Many businesses say they are finding it cost-prohibitive to build a pre-treatment facility.

Public Works Director Dan St. John said that when it was designed, the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility was meant to strike a balance between financial costs and environmental and public benefits for the city.

"It may not have been the cheapest, but it accomplishes the same (sewage treatment) goals while enriching the environment and the city. That's what the council wanted," said St. John.

The plant design was approved in 2005, while the city's General Plan was adopted three years later. The plant was designed to require food processors to pretreat their high density waste to a certain, stringent level before taking it for further treatment to the plant, something that many food processors say is prohibitively costly. Meanwhile the General Plan and Economic Development Strategy, seemingly in contrast, call for the development of these businesses.

Why the apparent disconnect exists between the three city planning documents remains unclear. Several people involved in the facility's design gave differing answers as to whether the plant was ever meant to take high density waste.

According to former City Councilmember David Keller, who was on the council that approved the new plant, it was never the goal to accept high density waste from food processing and industrial users without the companies pretreating the waste themselves. Janice Cader-Thompson, a former city councilmember who sat on the council just before the plant was approved, contended that it was always the intention to accomodate more food processors at the plant, but that high density waste producers were meant to have to pay additional costs for their waste to be treated.

Gary Imm, former CEO of Clover Stornetta Farms, and Ralph Sartori, former plant manager of what is now Petaluma Creamery, said they recall being promised a plant that would be able to handle their companies' high density waste.

Regardless of the original intentions, city officials now say the plant may need some tweaking in light of growing food processing and industrial needs in town.

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