BRAWLEYÂ â€”Â The Brawley city council prepared a memorandum regarding the status of the industrial discharge permit for One World Beef (OWB) at its regular meeting Tuesday, September 20, in response toÂ Councilman George Nava meeting with OWB leadership and California State Sen. Ben Hueso at the beef plant a few days ago.
â€œWhen we met with Sen. Ben Hueso at the beef plant, there was some frustration in the room directed towards the city,â€ said Nava.
â€œThe State of California is highly regulated and the city has to report to the state, too. OWB may feel that the city is impeding their progress,” Nava said. “I want to make sure that we are not impeding them and that OWB and the public understands that we will do everything we can to get this plant up and operating. I asked the Senator if there was a process that we could implement by reaching out to the state of California in see if there is a mechanism for them to start up and give them some leniency, say for a six month period, to let them start up and we could see their actual levels of what they are discharging. The Senator said he would assist in any way he could.â€
The city’s memorandum explains where the city is on the issue and its dealings with OWB in response to the OWB meeting.
City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore said, â€œThe memorandum is to update the city council on the status on the OWB industrial discharge permit. Our technical consultant, Dave Bachtel with HDR Engineering was instrumental in designing our wastewater treatment plant modernization project and key tech support in the development of our pretreatment ordinance and local limits, which was required by the Regional Water Quality Board.â€
â€œOWB closed on the purchase of the plant June 2016,â€ Bachtel explained. â€œAt that point, they had an industrial discharge permit that was transferred by the city from National Beef (NB). At that time, NB was not discharging and the pretreatment system that is there was not in operation. OWBâ€™s intended operation was to be a different company than NB, therefore, that would affect the wastewater characteristics,” Bachtel said.
“Before the permit was transferred, OWB gave the city a conceptual design of what they proposed to do in lieu of the existing treatment system and the permit was based on that,” said Bachtel. “The permit had a schedule order with it that requires them to provide certain information on a schedule. The schedule is designed to support their intended start of operations. This information is necessary for them to actually complete the design and construction of their pretreatment facility.â€
â€œWhat has happened since that time, OWB has started exploring alternative treatment methodologies,â€ continued Bachtel. â€œThe Regional Water Quality Board (RWQB) is involved in any discharge. If OWB doesnâ€™t use the cityâ€™s wastewater treatment plant, it must receive a permit from the RWQB to discharge by another method.â€
â€œWe have had many meetings with OWB,â€ concluded Bachtel. â€œWe have asked them repeatedly what their plan moving forward is going to be. We have yet to know that. We do know that they have submitted something to the RWQB, but we donâ€™t know what that is. We are doing our best to support OWB. We are waiting for them to figure out what they want to do. We are just kind of in a holding pattern.â€
At the council meeting Tuesday, Councilwoman Helen Noriega mentioned the odors from the beef plant in the past are a concern.
Brawley city manager Moore gave a response to Noriega’s comment.
â€œThe city has experienced odor issues throughout the life of the project, from its inception until its closure in 2014,â€ said Moore. â€œAs the city looks to the future of that site, even if OWB chooses to go a different route other than using the cityâ€™s wastewater treatment plant, we will still have the opportunity as a responsible agency in the CEQA process, or the environmental review process, to comment on odor concerns.â€
Bachtel pointed out that any number of the alternative methods of discharge would require a lengthy CEQA process.
â€œThere is a path available to OWB, and that is to move forward with the process they had originally given us in the permit application,â€ said Bachtel. â€œThey could complete the design, invest the money to get it operational, and be up and operating in a reasonable amount of time.â€
â€œFor this method of discharge to be completed, we are waiting on a body of technical information,â€ said Moore. â€œWe are prepared to work as expeditiously and efficiently as we can to get them the answers they need that will allow for them to plan for a start date that is realistic.â€
â€œWhat we have been asking for since the end of last year has been extremely consistent all along,â€ said Bachtel.
Eric Brandt, owner of One World Beef, expressed his thankfulness to Imperial County Supervisor Ryan Kelley and Sean Wilcox with the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation for their help in getting the beef plant back open.
â€œWeâ€™re anxious to get started, but we are also trying to make all of the right steps,â€ said Brandt. â€œWe want this facility to be running for decades.â€
Sen. Ben Hueso said, â€œThe state, the water district, and the county are behind this plant one hundred percent.â€
â€œIt is becoming increasingly challenging with all of the regulatory bodies that are strangling certain businesses,â€ said Brandt. â€œThat is why this facility was shut down and National Beef left the state. Weâ€™re going to continue to need help in that process.â€
â€œWeâ€™re going to give this plant everything weâ€™ve got,â€ said Brandt. â€œWe have stacks of employment applications and we are still refurbishing some systems to get up and running, but regulatory issues are delaying us.â€
Representatives of OWB said they believe they are being held to the same standard National Beef was held to as far as discharge volumes. However, One World Beef’s operations will be just a fraction of the operation of National Beef, who, according to OWB CFO Armand Nicholi, were running more cattle through the plant than it was designed for. The money spent so far in technical and attorney fees has put them into a situation to where OWB is looking at other discharge options, according to sources.
â€œThe RWQB has bent over backwards to help and facilitate the opening of the plant,â€ said Brandt. â€œHowever, they are just a part of the equation.â€
The other regulatory entity is the city of Brawley.
â€œOur job is to protect the residents and the city from being fined again,â€ said Nava.
â€œBottom line, this is the issue that will delay the opening from one to six months,â€ said Brandt. â€œIt is unfathomable the requirements the city wants us to meet. We have said we will meet the cityâ€™s discharge requirements. They want more than that. We are going a different route.â€
OWB is looking for an interim time to get their new biological wastewater discharge system installed and functioning, according to Nicholi.
â€œWe didnâ€™t expect the biggest roadblock from the constituent that stands to gain the most,â€ said Nicholi. â€œWeâ€™re just trying start a business and give people jobs. We are being treated like criminals.â€
Hueso has offered to help mediate between the different agencies to work out the delays and get the plant up and running, while still complying with all regulations.