City officials want to levy fines against two businesses for failing to comply with city and federal water quality standards.
The city cited the businesses after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accused Sandpoint of being too lax in enforcing water quality regulations.
The EPA has hit Sandpoint with a $27,500 fine because it did not sample some industrial wastewater discharges, publish the names of the companies with violations or fine the violators.
The city has to take action against the companies now by levying $4,000 fines to bring them into compliance with federal standards, public works director Kody Van Dyk said. By being more vigilant, the city hopes to negotiate with the EPA and reduce its penalty.
Litehouse Dressing, which manufactures a national line of dips and salad dressings, is one of the companies under scrutiny. Co-op Gas & Supply also was cited.
Both companies have a chance to appear before the City Council for a formal hearing and to contest the fines. The $4,000 fines are only a recommendation, and the companies have not yet been ordered to pay.
The Litehouse plant was cited for dumping too much oil and fat into the city sewer system. The company violated city standards 11 times between 1994 and 1996. It is required to treat its sewage to remove most of the oils, which can kill helpful bacteria used at the waste treatment plant.
Company officials were unavailable for comment Thursday, but Van Dyk said they have cooperated in solving the problem.
“They had some bad advice in the past on how to remove the (fats and oils),” he said. The company has now hired a consultant with expertise in food processing to help clean up discharges from the manufacturing plant.
Van Dyk said none of the waste from Litehouse ever polluted Lake Pend Oreille, where Sandpoint’s treated sewage is pumped. Much of the waste coming from Litehouse was canola oil.
Restaurants in Sandpoint likely put as much if not more grease and oil into the sewage system as Litehouse does, city officials said. Unlike Litehouse, restaurants are not monitored.
Litehouse is considered an industrial operation and its discharges are tested and must meet EPA guidelines.
The co-op has contaminated ground water after an old underground fuel tank leaked.
The EPA and city cited the company for not filing reports on time.
There was no problem with clean-up at the site on Fifth Avenue and Pine Street, Van Dyk said.
The Litehouse fine will not go toward paying what the city owes to the EPA.
Instead the city plans to credit Litehouse for any improvements it makes to stop future violations.
“We thought it would be better to fix the problem rather than have that money go into the city coffers,” Van Dyk said.
City officials were caught off guard by the penalty the EPA slapped on them.
They expected to be told of problems and given a chance to correct them before being assessed thousands of dollars for violations.
EPA attorney Jeff Kopf said the city was notified in advance.
“We were working with them before we initiated the fine. They shouldn’t have been surprised,” he said, adding the quickest way to resolve the problem was by fining the city and not the companies.
“We decide case by case, but basically we do the thing for the environment,” he said.
City attorney Wes Somerton knew of no warning of the EPA fine other than a letter two days before the fine was issued.
The city has until Thursday to file a response to the EPA citation.
The fine could be reduced, dropped or protested in court, which the city might do.
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