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W’bago, company, are fined by MPCA

By Staff | Dec 20, 2010

The city of Winnebago and a manufacturer were slapped with fines for allegedly allowing high-strength effluent into the town’s wastewater treatment facility.

“We got the violations because Continental gave us a high-level discharge we couldn’t handle. Personally, I don’t know if any city could have,” says City Administrator Austin Bleess.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency fined the city $12,700 for violating requirements of a National Pollutant Discharge/State Disposal System permit.

In turn, the city imposed Continental Carbonics, Inc. with fines and surcharges of $2,457 for January and $4,503 for February under a Significant Industrial Users agreement between the two parties.

Continental’s penalties could have been much higher. Under the MPCA’s calculations the dry ice producer’s fines would have been $21,943 or $33,260 depending on what pollutant levels were used.

Bleess says Continental is responsible for reimbursing the city for the MPCA fine.

A 14-page stipulation agreement drafted between the city and MPCA outlines the alleged violations, compliance schedule and penalties if the conditions are not met.

In October, Bleess and wastewater plant supervisor Darold Nienhaus met with MPCA officials to go over the agreement.

“We had a very long discussion with them, literally going over every word,” says Bleess. “All the items should be easily accomplished.”

While the city admits no wrongdoing, the MPCA alleges:

• effluent removal limit violations occurred in June 2009, January 2010 and March 2010;

• failure to properly control Continental’s wastewater discharges in January and February that resulted in pollutants to pass through and disrupt operations at the treatment facility;

• did not enforce the Significant Industrial Users agreement prior, during and after Continental’s high-strength discharge;

• improper operation, maintenance and adequate staffing allowed clarifiers to freeze-up during cold weather periods.

City officials acknowledge not having enough employees to handle the workload at the treatment facility.

Councilman Rick Johnson says there’s been an increase in reporting requirements when the plant went from a minor to major facility in August 2009.

“It might require us to hire another full-time employee. There’s more than 40 hours of work a week that needs to be done,” says Bleess.

In January, the city informed the MPCA a discharge from Continental contained a Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) of 7,638 ppd; the company’s permitted limit is about 200 ppd of COD.

Continental staff contend carbon dioxide gas supplied by Corn Plus did not meet purity specifications. They say additional scrubbing was required and that increased the carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand (CBOD) in the wastewater.

MPCA staff made an onsite inspection of the treatment plant in March and found that many treatment components needed repair. They were told the engineering firm of Bolton & Menk, Inc., had been hired to determine what upgrades should be done at the facility.

In April, MPCA officials also made a pretreatment inspection at the Continental plant.