Fines may increase for industrial sewage violations

City manager says letter will be sent to VeroBlue Farms directing them to come into compliance

Industries that dump more than they should into the Webster City sanitary sewer system would face higher fines under a plan advanced by the City Council Monday.

VeroBlue, the fish farm that City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez said consistently violates its wastewater agreement, will be sent a letter formally directing it to come into compliance.

Also, haulers will not be allowed to truck waste into the city’s sewage plant to be treated.

The council voted unanimously to approve the first reading of the three-part plan.

Ortiz-Hernandez said the proposal’s increased fines could apply to three businesses that are classified as significant industrial users of the wastewater treatment plant.

VeroBlue is one of those users.

But Ortiz-Hernandez said most of what the council approved Monday was not in direct response to that company’s operations. The increase in fines for violating wastewater agreements and the ban on haulers bringing waste to the plant needed to be done, he said.

The three industries are required to have wastewater agreements with the city which spell out how much wastewater they can send to the plant. Those agreements also put limits on how much of various kinds of pollutants can be in the wastewater sent to the plant.

Those industries face financial penalties if they violate their wastewater agreements. The measure advanced Monday increases those penalties for the first time in years.

VeroBlue was the only one of the three companies mentioned specifically during the council meeting. Ortiz-Hernandez said that company violates its agreement on a daily basis.

Councilman Jim Talbot said he heard that VeroBlue is dumping wastewater behind its facility.

“Take the fines as high as they can be,” he said. “They’re just totally disregarding the regulations.”

Talbot also said there is a bad odor coming from the VeroBlue site.

Ortiz-Hernandez said the odor is a separate issue. He said the city has sent letters to the company, stating that the smell is considered a nuisance.

“We’ve been pretty blunt and clear about our concern with the smell,” he added.

He said in a worst-case scenario, the city could charge VeroBlue with a municipal infraction because of the smell. Municipal infraction charges are generally filed in magistrate court.

According to Ortiz-Hernandez, VeroBlue representatives once said most of the company’s wastewater could be recycled.

“It just isn’t working,” he said.

No one from VeroBlue addressed the council Monday.

Stopping haulers from bringing waste to the treatment plant is the third element of the proposal.

“Our wastewater treatment plant isn’t properly set up to manage waste taken to the plant,” Ortiz-Hernandez said. “It poses a significant liability for the city.”

The increase in fines for violating the wastewater agreement will have to be approved two more times by the council to become law.

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