The Ramona Water Board was piping hot last Tuesday when discussion arose regarding mismanagement of grease disposal by a local restaurant at the bi-monthly water board meeting.
"It's unconscionable that people were doing this," board member Red Hager said of an alleged dumping of grease into sewer pipes.
Ramona Municipal Water District Engineer Mike Metts presented the board with slides of pictures from sewage pipes that had grease build-up in them. The build-up was found during routine maintenance of the pipes.
"Staff looked at the property and came to the conclusion that the tenant was emptying grease into the sewer pipe," Metts told the board.
The restaurant in question sits at 109 10th St. in Ramona and is owned by Eugene Plantier, who resides in Poway. Plantier leases the property to a tenant who uses it to run a restaurant.
New pipes that service the property were installed in late 2011 as part of the 1018 "A" Street Improvements. They were inspected on March 23, 2012, which is when significant amounts of grease were found.
"In April 2012, a letter went to the property owner regarding a compliance issue," Metts said.
According to the water district, a "catch box" with the lid off was found during an inspection of the property. There was a makeshift ladle nearby and it appeared that the restaurant was scooping raw grease and pouring it directly into the sewer. RMWD staff said they had to jet clean the line six times to completely clean the sewer main.
"When you have big chunks like this... it will cause blockages," said Jim Anderson, superintendent for the Ramona wastewater plants. "We have to go in manually and break it up by hand."
Anderson also said the grease chunks can break screens used at the San Vicente Wastewater Treatment Plant and cause overflows and clogs at the Santa Maria Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Metts said the county approved the grease trap the restaurant is supposed to use.
According to current code, the property is required to apply for a waste discharge permit prior to beginning discharge to the sewer system. The owner of the property had not filed for a waste discharge permit.
Also, though the property is required to have a total of 6.82 sewer EDUs (Equivalent Dwelling Units), the owner has only paid for 2 EDUs.
A letter was sent to Plantier regarding the outstanding debt on April 12 of this year. According to a document from the RMWD dates June 4, 2012, Plantier owes $33,755.18 to the district for connection and sewer service fees.
A $96,400 mitigation fee for the additionally required EDUs is being waived by the district.
Director Kit Kesinger of the water board suggested the district simply stop giving the unpaid water to the property.
"How does the district justify gifting those EDUs?" he asked Metts. "I have a problem giving away water district assets."
The district engineer said they must provide Plantier's property with 6.82 EDUs because that is code.
"We should be heping our community," Hager retorted. "I didn't know you were against community business here, Kesinger."
Board member Darrell Beck didn't like that the district was offering to waive mitigation fees, saying that someone else will end up "paying those fees."
"If this facility is not paying the fees, then someone else is," Beck said. "We're being very generous waiving the fee."
Plantier was at the meeting and spoke to the board, criticizing them for the last-minute notice of the item on the agenda.
"I don't think a phone call as I' walking out of the door counts as sufficient notice," he said. "I sent you a letter requesting a formal hearing. I do not accept this as that formal request."
Plantier said there's no proof the grease build up in the pipes is all from his property and told the board that the grease disposal issue was handled months ago when it was first brought to his attention.
Director Joe Zenovic disagreed.
"I'm concerned this is an ongoing problem," he said.
Plantier maintained that a service comes to the property every two weeks and properly cleans the grease traps and disposes of the grease.
The water board was asked to vote to approve the following undocumented EDU ad hoc committee recommendations:
- Deny the property owners request of fee forgiveness for the sewer connection fees and sewer service charge fees as it only provides a private benefit to the Plantiers and not a public benefit to the community of Ramona
- Waive the $96,400 mitigation fee ($20,000 per EDU on 4.82 additional EDUs required) citing Mr. Plantier's contention that the property had existed as a restaurant when the mitigation fee was set.
- Require the owner obtain a waste discharge permit for this establishment in order to continue discharging into the sewer system.
- The property owner be billed for the actual costs of cleanin the sewer main (outside of regular bi-annually maintenance) if required due to failure to comply with wastewater discharge permit requirements resulting on excessive amounts of grease being discharged from this establishment into the sewer main.
There item was tabled for 30 days until the Dec. 11 board meeting.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story said the item was passed. Patch sincerely regrets the error.