An O-AT-KA Milk Products Cooperative Inc. representative and the city’s attorney each explained their concerns during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Mark Gutman/Daily News file photoA milk truck from Dominesey in Varysburg pulls into O-At-Ka Milk in Batavia.

BATAVIA — A Batavia company says it’s concerned about how much it costs to dispose of wastewater elsewhere rather than discharging it into the city’s treatment system.

The city said it understands, but that coming off of an air header replacement project Batavia needs to make sure its Waste Water Treatment Plant system operates to the satisfaction of regulating agencies, to avoid financial penalties that could hurt the city and its taxpayers.

JOHN GOULD, a dairy farmer from Pavilion and chairman of the board for Upstate Niagara Cooperative and O-AT-KA Milk, 4815 Ellicott Street Rd., spoke about the wastewater situation Upstate Niagara/O-AT-KA is having with the city. Upstate Niagara and Dairy Farmers of America are O-AT-KA’s two co-operative owners.

In August, O-AT-KA voluntarily trucked some of its waste for a two-week period because the city wastewater treatment system couldn’t handle it.

“The result was a 14-day shutdown of O-AT-KA’s discharge. We had to haul wastewater away from the plant at a cost of half-a-million dollars for O-AT-KA,” he said. “We paid overtime for the employees so we could cut that time from 14 to 11 days.”

Gould said that in September, O-AT-KA was again on a restricted level of discharge to the city.

“It’s costing us between $20,000 and $50,000 a day, every day. At the current rate, we’ll easily be spending a million dollars hauling waste away from our plant,” he said. “It used to be accepted by the city, no problem. I’m confident we can work together and come up with a solution.”

Gould said he doesn’t know how many businesses can stand these kinds of costs.

“We cannot. If the city continues on this path, we’re going to have to make drastic decisions,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to have to furlough workers or reduce business. What’s the city’s vision of the future, if this is the way you treat your best and largest business in the city? Where are we going?

“I encourage you to get together with us. Let’s sit down. Let’s figure this out,” he said.

Gould said Upstate Niagara owns nine plants.

“We’re experts on wastewater handling. We have an expert engineering team. We have eight plants in this state, including O-AT-KA. We handle a couple of billion pounds of milk every year,” he said. “We’re committed to sustainable wastewater handling in this community.”

Gould said Upstate Niagara is investing $6 million in a pretreatment facility upgrade at O-AT-KA, to be online in December. Gould said Upstate Niagara/O-AT-KA has met all requirements for the DEC. It has paid surcharges to the city as required.

“We employ 450 people here. We represent 300 dairy farmers that own these plants,” Gould said. “I’m here tonight to propose that we sit down and come to a solution in regards to this wastewater problem ... no stonewalling — us, the city and the DEC sit down and visit about it. We need a win-win situation here. We’re committed to the city and we expect you’re committed to us.”

GEORGE VAN NEST, city attorney, in his response, talked about the air header replacement project that took place earlier this year.

“That was slated to be done over the course of the summer, completed in July,” he said.

Due to some supply chain issues, it could not be completed until late August, Van Nest said.

As part of that process, Van Nest said, dissolved oxygen (DO) levels decreased as the air headers were not working to the best of their ability and as they degraded. At the same time, from the data the city reviewed, it appeared there were high loadings to the treatment plant from O-AT-KA, which depressed the dissolved oxygen levels needed in the ponds for them to function properly, Van Nest said.

“During the course of the summer, as the project was ongoing ... the city had asked O-AT-KA to cease discharging for up to a couple of weeks while the one pond was out of service and the air header was replaced, but ultimately to roll back on slowly so that the ponds and the DO recovery could take place when the air header system was ultimately turned back on ... to maximum ability,” he said. “Unfortunately, from the data we’ve looked at, that doesn’t appear to have been the case.” Van Nest said O-AT-KA has a sewer industrial discharge permit, issued by the city. There are permit levels that limit the discharge of certain contaminants and certain parameters of waste to 300 milligrams per liter. From the data the city has seen this year and over the last few weeks and months, discharges of specific contaminants from O-AT-KA to the treatment plant were well in excess of permitted levels, he said.

“As a consequence to that, as the air header project was completed in late August and the time for recovery for the ponds ... needed to take place, they simply did not recover very fast,” the city attorney said.

Because of that, Van Nest said, around Sept. 22, the city received a notice of violation from the DEC. The notice indicated the DEC was looking at enforcement action on the city, through its State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit for the plant and discharges from the plant.

“A notice of violation, so everyone understands, is a precursor to a potential order on consent from the DEC or EPA,” Van Nest said. “The order on consent would carry with it penalties, compliance schedules and the penalties are significant,” he said. “They could be $30,000 per day, per violation, for an owner of a plant that’s in violation.”

The city issued O-AT-KA a cease-and-desist letter a few days later, “indicating that O-AT-KA should cease discharges to the extent possible and, ultimately, completely, to the plant, so that the dissolved oxygen levels could recover,” Van Nest said.

“That has forced O-AT-KA to get back to the point where they are trucking a lot of waste from their plant,” he said. “We’ve heard it’s 150,000 gallons a day. There’s an additional amount that’s still being discharged to the plant.”

Right now, the ponds have still not recovered, Van Nest said.

Van Nest said the city has been in close communication with DEC management in Region 8 — including all its program staff, counsel and the DEC regional director to advise them of the steps being taken to show what the city was doing to address the issue. The city was also telling them that it is working closely with its engineers to address the issue to the DEC’s satisfaction and to make sure the city’s facility operated properly after the air header project, he said.

Van Nest said various people have suggested there hasn’t been communication.

“I’ve been in communication with the attorney for O-AT-KA in the last 24 hours on two occasions,” he said. “The technical staff of the city has been in communication with O-AT-KA’s technical staff engineers on several instances. Part of the issue is, O-AT-KA and the engineers keep suggesting that there are alternatives available for the city’s ponds, for the waste water treatment program at the city’s ponds to recover more quickly.”

One of the initial suggestions, the city attorney said, was additional, portable air pumps at the ponds.

“While additional oxygen is being pumped in by the existing, permanent pumps, it’s possible that if there were mobile pumps available and you could source them and get them, and provide the generators for them, that maybe that would be beneficial if it was agreed to by the city’s engineers,” Van Nest said. “The problem with that is that those pumps are not available. At this point, we don’t see anything that’s currently available and implementable on the timeline that these ponds need to recover on that will, in fact, meet those requirements.”

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