Federal and state environmental regulators have tentatively flashed the green light to Dickinson Frozen Foods’ plans for discharging the Fruitland facility’s food processing wastewater into the Payette River.
Currently the company’s production wastewater goes to the City of Fruitland wastewater treatment plant. Dickinson pre-treats its wastewater before it goes to the city plant, and pre-treatment will continue to be required under a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.
In a federally published notice on Oct. 4, the EPA announced it is proposing to issue the permit to Dickinson. EPA’s Region 10 office has tentatively determined to issue the permit, the notice states. A public comment period concludes Nov. 5.
Fruitland Mayor Brian Howell, who says the city has concerns about Dickinson discharging pollutants not far upstream from the intake for the city’s drinking water plant, said Fruitland officials only became aware of the impending permit a couple of weeks ago — through “non-official means,” he added, not via notification from EPA.
“The City of Fruitland was not on the notification list for the permit, which I find a little weird, for lack of a better term, and we had to actually call them and talk to them and they finally sent us the permit information.”
Howell said it’s important that Fruitland residents be made aware of the situation.
“It’s in the public comment period now, and we will of course file some public comments because it’s going to be upstream from where we pull our water for the city drinking water out of the river. … The general thing is that most of the people in the city have no idea this is going on, and I think in order to do my job right, they need to know, and they need to have the ability if they wish to to make any comments,” the mayor said.
According to a multiple-page fact sheet posted for download at the EPA’s website, Dickinson originally applied for the permit in March 2012, and the application was updated on July 31, 2018.
“Dickinson is rerouting wastewater from the City of Fruitland’s sewage treatment plant to the Payette River,” the sheet states.
In a description of the company’s treatment plant, the sheet notes that wastewater “is generated primarily from wet processes that wash, sort, blanch, cut, and transfer onions and bell peppers. Before discharge to the wastewater system, onion and pepper wash water is routed through settling basins to remove silt. Wastewater is also generated throughout the plant during clean-up and equipment sanitation.
“... The treatment process consists of screens, dissolved air floatation, moving bed biofilm reactor (MBBR) and a disc filter. The MBBR system consists of an activated sludge aeration system where the sludge is collected on recycled plastic carriers. These carriers have a large internal surface for optimal contact of water, air and bacteria. This process is used for the removal of organic substances, nitrification and denitrification.”
Listed on the sheet as “pollutants of concern” are five-day biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, pH, temperature, ammonia, and phosphorus.
As conditions for the permit, the company must monitor effluent and surface water, submit discharge monitoring reports, and have written plans for Quality Assurance and Best Management Practices for the facility.
The permit would be good for five years.
Howell said Dickinson’s current contract with the city for wastewater treatment “goes back several years.” He said the city and company officials, engineers, and attorneys for both parties met in February to begin fine-tuning the details for a new contract, and at that point the city believed the new contract would be in place within a matter of weeks.
“We actually expected we’d have this contract in place by the end of April at the latest,” Howell said. More recently, the city has given Dickinson an Oct. 15 deadline to sign the new contract.
The newspaper was unable to reach Plant Manager Todd Campbell for comment.
Deputy City Clerk Suzanne Pearcy, who is Fruitland’s treasurer and utilities billing specialist, said Dickinson’s monthly sewer bills last year ranged from approximately $50,000 to around $80,000, but beginning this January the city began charging the company at the lowest rate, Tier 1, and as a result this year’s bills have been sharply lower, around $18,000.
Pearcy explained that charging Dickinson at Tier 1 demonstrated the city’s good faith during contract negotiations, as it was expected that the new contract would be structured to place Dickinson most often at Tier 1 anyway. Under the old contract, Dickinson’s waste output usually had the company at the highest rate, Tier 3.
Howell said the city does not make money from processing Dickinson’s waste.
“By law, we can’t make profit off of the wastewater plant or the water plant,” Howell said. Dickinson produces “a lot of industrial waste, which they pre-treat and send to us,” he added. “Our rates for them have to be based on what it costs us to clean that water up to the level that we have to have it to put it back in the river.” Additionally, the fees can help pay off “bonds that we had to do to get the wastewater plant built.”