Members of the governing body of Blanco approved an industrial wastewater ordinance at their regular meeting July 10, following sometimes acerbic debate between city attorney Eddy Rogers and Real Ale Brewery CFO Chad Stoner.
A number of citizens wore Real Ale T-shirts in support of the brewery, whose effluent has taxed the aging Blanco sewer system. In the public comments portion of the meeting, local business owner Jon Brieger spoke in support of the brewery, calling it “a homegrown” business, which has had a positive economic impact on the community for the 16 years it has been in operation.
He addressed one of the brewery’s concerns, that the timeline for bringing the brewery’s discharge into line with BOD (biological oxygen demand) and TSS (total suspended solids) levels mandated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) needs to be more realistic and not economically punitive to the brewery.
Blanco County Inn owner Ralph de Leon called the brewery “one of the biggest and best corporate citizens in the community.”
Resident Connie Barron recounted a recent trip to Port Aransas, where residents said, “Oh, you’re from Blanco — that’s where Real Ale Brewery is located.” She said she is confident the city will do what is needed to upgrade the sewer treatment plant and hopes the ordinance will be fair and will spread the expense evenly across the community. She also hailed a recent donation by the brewery to the Friends of the Blanco State Park.
Jim Weaver, a resident and former wastewater treatment expert, cited examples of violations at the sewer plant unrelated to brewery effluent, such as excessive levels of ammonium, nitrates, and even E. coli bacteria, and questioned whether the ordinance would resolve those issues. He expressed fear that any wastewater ordinance “would be counter-productive to new industry” and could cause a rise in sewer rates.
Real Ale Brewery employee Mike Pell lauded the brewery as an employer who provides health insurance and benefits for its employees and is a partner in the community.
Resident Wayne Gosnell and his wife Martha wore Real Ale Ride T-shirts, representing a yearly fundraiser sponsored by the brewery, which involves many community volunteers and earmarks various local charities for proceeds from the ride.
He commented, “We all know that the sewer plant is antiquated, and now the chickens are coming home to roost.” He added that Real Ale should not be penalized and questioned the fact that the ordinance being considered has not been posted for citizens to read. He suggested the vote be deferred until citizens can read it.
Economic developer Mike Barnes said that other communities would be thrilled to have a business such as Real Ale and would give them the land and tax incentives to lure them to their community.
Attorney Eddy Rogers set the tone for controversy by asking to use the public comments portion as a forum to respond. He said the ordinance “is not a vote on whether we like Real Ale” and that the brewery knew five years ago that they would have to control their effluent and that they have spent $3 million on brewery expansion but have not built a pre-treatment plant.
He further stated, “All they want is delay, delay, delay. They do not want to abide by any restrictions.”
Brewery CFO Chad Stoner responded angrily, “The city does not want to abide by the bargain” that it would support the brewery up to a capacity of 60 thousand barrels, a level of production which the brewery has not reached.
He called the “phased implementation” called for in the ordinance “a piece of crap” and concluded, “We want a wastewater ordinance; we do not want to be treated the way you are treating us. Don’t tell people the sky is falling—stop the lying.”
Brewery co-owner Gabriel Gregerman tried to calm the waters by thanking everyone present for their support and admonishing the arguing parties, “Pointing fingers and calling people liars will not get us where we want to go. We have a lot of work to do, and I hope we can do it in a respectful manner.”
As tempers cooled, council began working through agenda items. Mayor Chuck Homan reported that renovation work is complete on City Hall and extended an invitation to an Open House on Thursday, July 12, to see the upgraded facility.
“We are very proud of it,” he concluded. He also reported that the two new police cars are now in service and have been issued to Officer Stewart and Officer Coulton.
Council approved a street closure on September 8-9 from 10 a.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday for the opening of a new exhibit on the Old West at the Pioneer Museum. Museum representative Nell Krueger expressed thanks to the city for its support of the museum and urged residents to visit the World War II exhibit before it closes.
In the absence of Police Chief Milton Willmann, Officer Stewart reported that the two new police cars are 2013 Ford Interceptors, a model which replaces the Crown Victoria. Everything in the cars is new, he said, except the radar and radios, which were transferred from the older cars. He invited those in attendance to come outside after the meeting to look at his cruiser.
He thanked the city for purchasing the cars. “They are very nice, and we appreciate the city being on our side,” he concluded.
In addition, Officer Stewart reported that the police department had 143 calls for service in June, with a significant jump in animal control violations, up to 17. He also reported a jump in reckless driver calls, up to 12.
Preceding the vote on the industrial wastewater ordinance, Eddy Rogers summarized, “For the betterment of the City of Blanco, we need to get this show on the road. The brewery is using 27 percent of our plant. The lagoons are going to be taken care of; the bids are going out soon. That will extend the life of the sewer plant.”
Public Works Director Nathan Cantrell added that a new sewer plant would cost the city $3 million and would raise sewer rates for everyone, including the brewery.
Rogers continued that the ordinance and wastewater disposal permit are now phased, dropping the BOD and TSS levels to 600/200 by next year. “I would recommend strongly that we pass the ordinance,” he concluded.
Council member Bobby McClung agreed that there is no argument on the need for an ordinance, that “the permit is where the rubber meets the road.” The ensuing discussion included issues such as the effect of flow equalization, which spreads out the discharge of effluent over a period of time as each batch of beer is brewed.
The brewery agreed to implement that process by next March 15. Brewery owner Brad Farbstein recommended not testing the effluent until flow equalization is in place. He also suggested that the council withhold penalties and surcharges until the brewery finds a better method of hauling off solids. Another issue was whether a weekly average of measurements of effluent would satisfy TCEQ rules.
Finally, the date on which the ordinance would take effect was debated, with the brewery advocating time after the first hauling is done, no later than July 30.
Bobby Mack served as a moderating influence, urging Eddy Rogers to see that the brewery has made commitments, counter to his continuing assertions that they do not want any restrictions and do not want to make a commitment.
“The time for talk is over,” he said at one point. “Let’s get a nice generic ordinance that doesn’t put the brewery in violation right away.”
The final vote to approve the ordinance with modifications in the date it takes effect (August 15), the date hauling will begin (no later than July 30), and the date of the permit (no later than August 15) was unanimous. Any issues that arise before the ordinance takes effect can be addressed at the next council meeting on August 14.