Modesto City Council to consider waiving $8.5M wastewater charge

kvaline@modbee.comJanuary 27, 2014 

DN industry 1

Seneca Foods is located in the Beard Industrial District in Modesto; pictured July 26, 2007.

DEBBIE NODA — dnoda@modbee.com Buy Photo

— The Modesto City Council is expected to decide tonight whether to waive the nearly $8.5 million Seneca Foods owes the city for producing more wastewater than it is permitted under a city formula.

City officials are recommending the council grant what they are calling a “one-time, nonprecedent-setting” waiver to Seneca because the manufacturer has changed its production methods and no longer uses more wastewater than allowed. Officials said Seneca – which produces canned peaches, fruit cocktail and apricots at its Modesto plant – approached them with the request.

Interim Public Works Director Dave Rudat said it’s important to recognize manufacturers that do the right thing and to make sure the city remains competitive in retaining and attracting industry.

Because Modesto can process only so much wastewater, it allocates usage among its 44 biggest industrial users – primarily food manufacturers such as Del Monte, Seneca and E.&J. Gallo Winery. The users produce about one-third of the city’s annual wastewater flow.

The city also has created a wastewater capacity bank to facilitate the allocation of wastewater among its big industrial users. A 2007 City Council resolution requires the city to impose what it calls a capacity charge on those users if they exceed their wastewater allocation by 10 percent for two consecutive years or for three years during a five-year stretch.

Seneca works on compliance

Wastewater is composed of flow, total suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand. Seneca exceeded the amount of biochemical oxygen demand it could produce in 2010 and 2011 because of its canned pear production line. That line was using a caustic solution to remove the pear skins. Before the start of the 2012 canning season, Seneca replaced that method with mechanical knife pear peelers, which resulted in Seneca coming into compliance.

The capacity charge can be used only for paying off debt issued for the wastewater system or for projects that expand the system’s capacity, said Tom Sinclair, Modesto’s environmental regulatory compliance administrator. Manufacturers that pay the capacity charge also increase the amount of wastewater they can produce.

Sinclair said it would not make sense to collect the $8.476 million Seneca owes the city because it made a permanent fix to the problem and would not need the additional wastewater capacity. He said that capacity now can be purchased from the city by other manufacturers.

Seneca officials did not return calls seeking comment Friday and Monday. But the head of the Manufacturers Council of the Central Valley said she supports the waiver.

“The available wastewater capacity will be used to attract new industry or sold to a company wanting to expand,” MCCV Executive Director Jennifer Carlson said in an email. “Either action will bring jobs and revenue to the city, both of which are desperately needed, and will amount to much more than $8.5 million in the long run.

“The manufacturing sector in Stanislaus County contributes over 20,000 jobs and $4 billion in output annually. Manufacturing matters to our local economy, and I am pleased to see the city’s recognizing that.”

Sinclair said the council has granted only one waiver, and that was to Squab Producers a couple of years ago. He said Squab owed the city a capacity charge of $198,753, but a waiver was granted because Squab had stopped exceeding its wastewater allotment when its business slumped in the recession.

He said the city has not imposed capacity charges on any other manufacturers because it is evaluating how much wastewater they produce. Sinclair said requests for any other potential waivers would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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