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Baraboo, distillery reach sewer deal

August 28, 2018

A Baraboo distillery has reached a deal with the city that would resolve part of a dispute over its water bills.

On Monday the Baraboo Common Council’s public safety committee voted 3-0 to recommend charging Driftless Glen Distillery only for the water it discharges to the sewer. The city typically bases sewer bills on the amount of water a customer takes in, assuming that what goes in must come out. But the distillery’s owners have argued they shouldn’t be charged sewer fees for water that evaporates in the distilling process, goes out the door in the form of bottled spirits or is hauled offsite for disposal.

The matter goes before the full council Tuesday evening.

The city and Driftless Glen have worked for months to rectify a multifaceted rift over the distillery’s sewer bills. The agreement to charge the distillery based on the amount of water it discharges into the system, rather than the amount it takes in, would solve one aspect of the dispute.

“We believe it’s a mutually satisfactory agreement,” said Public Works Director Tom Pinion.

Under the deal, Driftless Glen’s sewer rate would be calculated with data from multiple sources measuring water that goes into its facility but doesn’t end up in the sewer. The city would install, at the distillery’s cost, a meter measuring the amount of water that goes into its chilling system but isn’t discharged into the sewer. Driftless Glen would provide the city with reports on how many bottles of spirits it ships out each quarter and how much high-density wastewater it hauls offsite for disposal.

“This is a first step, and we look forward to reaching the next,” said the distillery owners’ attorney, Buck Sweeney.

“We’re glad to move the resolution forward on at least one of the subjects,” said Mayor Mike Palm.

Owners Brian and Renee Bemis have sparred with city leaders over their water rates since March. They’ve asked for relief from what they say are excessive rates. Aldermen and city department heads have said they’re willing to entertain the distillery’s proposed solutions, as long as the city’s costs are covered without burdening other taxpayers.

Driftless Glen wants a break on the rate it’s charged for discharging high-density waste — grains that are byproducts of the distilling process — to the sewer plant. The distillery has offered to install technology that would create a gradual flow of high-strength wastewater into the system to avoid taxing its capacity.

About one-third of the distillery’s wastewater is considered high-strength and subject to higher sewer rates. Driftless Glen has been hauling such waste offsite but would like to use the city sewer if a lower rate is approved. A four-month wastewater rate study now under way should provide insight into how much it costs to process the distillery’s wastewater.

Capacity is another issue. When in production, the demand the distillery places on the sewer plant is equivalent to 140 homes. Utility Superintendent Wade Peterson has said the system can handle the distillery’s wastewater, but the business should cover the costs it incurs.

The distillery hopes to expand by running second and third shifts, but those plans have stalled over wastewater issues. The cost of hauling high-density wastewater to another location is hamstringing the distillery financially, representatives said, and if it can’t reach a resolution with the city, Driftless Glen might have to look elsewhere for expansion. The distillery and restaurant was built along the Baraboo River near Circus World in 2014 and opened the next year.

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