Great gobs of grease to put city in a FOG

The city of Henderson is likely to crack down on restaurants soon to reduce the amount of grease seeping into the sewer system and producing blockages and leaks.

Tom Spain, who heads the Henderson Water Reclamation Facility, presented the proposed fats, oils and grease (FOG) ordinance to the City Council’s Public Utilities Committee on Monday.

“We’ve been really, over the last seven years, having trouble with stoppages in lines,” Assistant City Manager Mark Warren said. “The last state inspection, they suggested we look into a grease ordinance.”

Henderson has an ordinance requiring commercial food preparation sites — from restaurants to convenience stores to schools — to have grease traps. But Warren said there’s no teeth in that ordinance, and grease traps quickly become useless if they aren’t maintained.

“Once they’re put in, nobody looks at them,” said Linda Leyen of the Water Reclamation Facility.

Under the proposed FOG ordinance, any “cooking establishment” would have to install a grease trap. A cooking establishment is defined as any place other than a private home that prepares food by frying, baking, grilling, sauteing, rotisserie cooking, broiling, boiling, blanching, roasting, toasting, poaching, infrared heating, searing, barbecuing or “any other food preparation activity that produces a hot, non-drinkable food product in or on a receptacle that requires washing.”

Just in case that definition doesn’t cover enough establishments, the director of the waste-water plant would have the power to order commercial facilities that serve only precooked, cold dairy or frozen foods to install grease traps.

These aren’t small devices. Some facilities that produce little grease could get away with internal traps, but most traps are complicated structures buried outside. An appendix with the proposed ordinance lists six ways to calculate the minimum size required for the devices. The possible results include a 3,000-gallon tank for a 100-person nursing home, a 2,000-gallon tank for a pizza parlor and a 2,000-gallon tank for a 50-seat restaurant.

Such facilities with manhole access are not fun or easy to clean and maintain, and that’s the reason for a new ordinance with teeth.

“There’s a lot of things you can do to make that trap not work at efficiency,” Spain said, such as running water through the trap too fast or too hot or never cleaning it out.

Under the FOG proposal, establishments would be responsible for ensuring that each liter of waster water flowing out of the grease trap contains no more than 275 milligrams of grease. The establishments would have to empty the accumulated grease and other waste at least once every 30 days, and they would have to maintain records of each maintenance effort for three years.

The ordinance includes a table of penalties that increase as violations are repeated or become more severe.

For a first offense of too much grease in the waste water, as long as the concentration is less than 550 milligrams per liter, a restaurant would get a notice to correct the violation and no fine. A fifth offense of that kind would result in a $500 fine.

Allowing the grease concentration to exceed 825 milligrams per liter, trying to hinder the monitoring or sampling of the waster water, or falsifying documentation would be punished by a fine of $500 to $1,000.

“When you get to $1,000, basically you’re not doing anything,” Spain said.

If a restaurant’s failure to control grease led to a failure of the sewer system, the result could be fines and even imprisonment, depending on the severity of the grease violation and the damage to the environment, property and public health.

Except in the case of a major sewer spill, food establishments will be safe from enforcement penalties for the first year in which the ordinance is in effect.

“This is being driven by the fact that the state requires that you maintain your collection system grease-free,” Spain said. Because the city has seen grease-related overflows, it has no choice but to crack down on food preparation facilities.

He cited a recent example of a major sewer spill that was largely the fault of grease from one particular restaurant, which he declined to identify.

The Water Reclamation Facility staff isn’t waiting for the ordinance to attack grease more aggressively. Water bills last month included “Don’t Feed the Grease Goblin” cards with do’s and don’ts in English and Spanish, and the city sent a survey to all 129 identified cooking establishments in Henderson to get information about their grease traps. Spain said only 30 of the 129 responded.

“This is an unfunded mandate” from the city to the restaurants, Public Utilities Committee Chairman John Wester said, so the city must be sure to involve those establishments in creating the ordinance and setting the fees.

Spain said a 2,000-gallon trap could cost $3,000 or more to install.

Under the proposal presented Monday, the city would charge each establishment a monitoring fee of $5 per month. For those that are found to be in violation and are required to get permits, the fee would be $100, plus a monthly sampling fee to ensure compliance.

Spain said the goal is to put the FOG ordinance into effect with the start of the fiscal year July 1, so the city has some time to work with food establishments.

Darrell Johnson from the Water Reclamation Facility has created a PowerPoint presentation for training sessions for operators of the affected establishments. At Wester’s suggestion, Spain said those training sessions will be held before the ordinance is enacted and be used to get feedback on the proposal.