New Mexico officials are cracking down on sources sending liquefied fat, oil or grease down the sewage lines headed to the Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant. Those items clog and damage expensive filters at the plant, which drives up operational expenses and speeds up the need to replace the filters.
Joe Rowland, a lab technician at the treatment plant, took on the added job of checking each food-handling business for operable traps and disposal systems. Ruidoso Village Councilor Lynn Crawford said he’s heard good things about how Rowland is working with business owners.
Rowland said he’s encountered grease traps that really weren’t grease traps, but were all that could be accommodated under a sink. Public Works Director J. R. Baumann said they have talked about a deadline to give small business owners that may be looking at a high bill to meet new grease trap cleaning standards for FOG reduction. By warning them ahead, they could begin putting aside the money they will need when the deadline arrives, he said.
“If you are serving or preparing food, you have to have a grease trap,” Rowland said.
To accommodate the inspections, restaurants and other businesses with grease traps need to post or have receipts handy to prove the traps have been cleaned on a regular basis, he said. He also works with the septic service people, who keep records of where they have picked up the fats, grease and oil.
He has covered all of the restaurants and now has moved to checking the hotels and motels, but the only local hotel with a full kitchen and grease trap is the Elegante next to the convention center, he said.
Crawford, who owns a restaurant and catering business, said even motels with prepared food that is heated in microwaves for customers at breakfast create some grease and often have gravy. Rowland needs to ensure they are following a method to keep fats and grease out of the system.
Rowland said he is checking to find out the latest rules on handling that type of waste. “I’m trying to get more training, before I say to someone that they must do this or that,” he said.
Crawford said some systems may have rusted out and the owners use degreaser to keep drains clear. Businesses that use degreasers may have no problem on their end, but when that material reaches the treatment plant, the grease reconstitutes, Crawford said.
The council also needs to review the FOG ordinance it adopted in 2013, and incorporate needed changes, Rowland said, adding, “Most of it is up to par with everybody else, but there may be one or two things we want to add.”
I’m just becoming aware of the gravity of the issue, because of the impact on the plant,” Mayor Tom Battin, who is chairman of the JUB, said. He asked if a revamped draft ordinance could be available for review at the council’s September meeting, but Baumann said they will need more time.
“We’re working with Community Development Director Bradford Dyjak and are moving forward, but we won’t be ready by September,” he said. “What we have in place is pretty good, with a few minor changes. We will come to this board and council. We’re asking you is to draw the line in the sand, because the calls are about to begin, because we are about to start enforcing this.
“Rule of thumb, if you are an operating business, we are there to work with you. But on the other hand, every new business had to meet the highest plumbing code standards and our rule of thumb is if a restaurant has gone out of business and is being reopened, they have to meet the new code, not make due with what they had.”
He said that was no problem at a new salad restaurant, because everything was a new installation, but at a doughnut shop that moved into a former restaurant space, they were looking at a steep investment. Village staff worked with the owners and were able to cut that figure in half, although it still was high, he said.
Some communities don’t regulate what type of system a restaurant uses, but instead, tests the output into the waste stream, Baumann said. “If they don’t meet that standard, no matter what they do with a trap, they are shut down,” he said. “We are in the discussion stage of whether that is the route we want to go.”
Rowland said some analysis is underway on production from the Inn of the Mountain Gods, which is a major customers at the treatment plant and operates multiple restaurants.
Baumann said during a recent inspection, the team was impressed with what they saw and the complete records on inspections. “We were extremely impressed with what they are doing, a fantastic job of cleaning out on schedule and doing everything we could ask of them from what we have seen,” he said.
The Inn’s output also was tested late Tuesday and it may be time to revisit the village’s agreement with the Inn, Baumann said.
“The volume of the waste stream appears to be much higher than originally approved,” he said. “It might be time to look at that. Not that they aren’t doing everything all right, but it’s a very old agreement.”
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