Cambria officials say Didion Ethanol plant dumping dirty wastewater

September 20, 2018

CAMBRIA – Officials in the village of Cambria have put Didion Ethanol on notice to stop dumping industrial wastewater in the village’s wastewater treatment system.

Cambria Public Works Director Tom Tietz said on Sept. 13 he hand-delivered a letter from the village’s attorney Jesse Spankowski to Didion Vice President Dale Drachenberg, alleging that water from the ethanol manufacturing process was being discharged illegally – and that Didion could be fined $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent day that the discharge continues.

The wastewater treatment plant for a village with a population of 756 is not equipped to handle industrial wastewater, Tietz said.

“They’re sending raw, untreated water into the system,” he said. “What exactly they’re sending, and where it’s coming from, I don’t know.”

Tietz said he is sure that Didion ethanol is the source of the wastewater, because it was traced to a lateral wastewater line from the ethanol plant.

Didion Ethanol began operations in April 2008 just outside the village limits, in the town of Courtland. The Didion Milling plant – which was the site of a May 2017 explosion that killed five people – is in the village limits.

Didion officials – including Drachenberg, legal counsel Coral Didion and spokeswoman Aisha Bachlani – could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, Tietz said, village officials have received no response from Didion.

Village President Glen Williams said the village’s next steps won’t be known until new test results from samples taken from the wastewater treatment plant on Sept. 14 are back. The wastewater is being tested daily, but Tietz said it usually takes about five days to get results from the day each sample is taken.

Tietz said in recent months he has had troubling results from his weekly tests of the wastewater.

A normal reading, he said, is 200 milligrams per liter (or 200 parts per million) of suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand.

Recent samples came back at 600 milligrams per liter.

Tietz said his regular tests had, for several weeks, turned up “occasional” results showing excess contamination, but he said he only recently confirmed that the source was Didion Ethanol.

Village officials are planning a $2.3 million addition to the wastewater treatment plant to address excess levels of phosphates, Tietz said. More than half that cost will be paid for with grants from various state and federal sources, he said.

But a village the size of Cambria doesn’t get sufficient wastewater to dilute tainted industrial wastewater.

According to Williams and Tietz, Didion is supposed to haul away its wastewater rather than emit it into the village’s system.

The company’s development agreement with the village requires its compliance with village wastewater ordinances, Tietz said.

According to the village’s letter to Didion officials, the Cambria Village Board intends to enforce the fines set in the ordinance, $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense, effective Sept. 13.

Village officials also intend to cap Didion Ethanol’s wastewater sewer lines in 21 days from Sept. 13, the letter said.

If Didion officials want to send the wastewater discharged from the company’s bathrooms to the Cambria treatment plant, then the village will require Didion to pay for the installation of a sampling device that would monitor wastewater coming from Didion around the clock, seven days a week, to ensure that no industrial wastewater is being discharged.

Tietz said it is almost unheard of for a municipality to cap a particular wastewater lateral. Whether Didion or the village would pay for the work – which would entail digging up the line – remains to be seen, he said.

Village officials said the problem poses no immediate threat to the village’s water supply.

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