Company that dumped acidic wastewater into Blaine’s sewer system pays for city park

These two lots will be purchased by the City of Blaine to be transformed into part of the Cain Creek Park.
These two lots will be purchased by the City of Blaine to be transformed into part of the Cain Creek Park. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

An organic food producer that was fined thousands of dollars in November 2016 for disposing acidic wastewater into Blaine’s sewer treatment system will now help the city buy land to be used as a public park, and restore a streambank.

Nature’s Path Foods, a Richmond B.C.-based company that produces organic granola, cookies and cereal, will spend approximately $29,800 on an environmental package that includes five projects to benefit the Cain Creek watershed. The environmental package settles Nature Path’s appeal of a 2016 Washington State Department of Ecology penalty for $22,000 and an order of compliance for the acidic wastewater that came from the company’s Blaine location, according to Ecology records. The settlement was reached in late October.

The package includes the following projects:

▪  Land purchase: Nature’s Path will provide $20,000 to the City of Blaine to buy two parcels of land in the Cain Creek corridor, southeast of City Hall, between Interstate 5 and Blaine Street. The parcels will be part of the new Cain Creek Park. The city has until Dec. 31 to buy the land. If the city buys it late, Nature’s Path will still continue with the project. However, if the city does not buy the land at all, an alternative project will be considered to be funded by Nature’s Path.

▪  Cain Creek restoration: Nature’s Path will conduct a watershed cleanup for Cain Creek, as well as restoration work on those two parcels of land. Work parties will be provided by April 2018 and spring 2019, and 2020 if needed. Nature’s Path will contribute $3,000 for this portion of the project.

▪  Pet waste removal: The company will maintain and fund three years of ongoing garbage pick up and provide a three year’s supply of pet waste bags that will be placed at the Cain Creek Park’s Mitchell Avenue entrance. Blaine Public Works was expected to install a pet waste station at that location by Oct. 30. The estimated cost for this is $800. There are two pet waste stations included in the Cain Creek Park plan that will be implemented at a later date. It is part of the city’s pilot pet waste initiative.

▪  Water Quality retrofit: As part of a separate project analyzing ways to enhance Cain Creek’s water quality, Nature’s Path will pay for water quality treatment retrofitting to help clean and reduce stormwater. The project should decrease fecal bacteria from stormwater upstream of the lower section of the creek. The costs are estimated at $5,000.

▪  Public Awareness and interpretive signs: Nature’s Path will fund interpretive signs to be put up around Cain Creek Park, including at the Mitchell Avenue entrance, that will highlight the creek’s corridor, natural history and wildlife. The area, which is within walking distance of schools, has been an educational site for classrooms – and used as an outdoor water quality field classroom. The signs will be put up by May 30, 2018. Costs are estimated at $1,000.

In mid-November 2016, Ecology issued a $22,000 penalty and an order of compliance because Nature’s Path had dumped acidic wastewater into the sewer, according to Ecology records. The company’s water quality permit stated it must pretreat the water before disposing it into the sewer, because acidic water can damage sewer lines and cause health hazards for sewer plant workers, according to the records.

Ecology found the violations, of which there were 39, from the discharge monitoring reports the company filed. Ecology only fined Nature’s Path for being out of compliance with its rules regarding pH, which measures water acidity. The company was reported to not have been within the recommended pH levels 20 times from November 2014 to October 2016, according to state records.

Nature’s Path contested the findings. As part of the settlement agreement, Nature’s Path does not admit liability, guilt or wrongdoing.

The company has been in compliance with Ecology’s pH rules since January, Ecology said.

“We’re pleased to see this excellent progress at the Nature’s Path facility and these valuable enhancements for the city,” Tom Buroker, director of Ecology’s Northwest Regional Office, said in a prepared statement. “We value this partnership, because the assistance to the city goes above what our penalty assessed and, more importantly, beyond what’s required to comply with the permit.”

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt

Related stories from Bellingham Herald