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Sewer penalties could hit $500,000 for large water user

Portland Bottling Co. plans to challenge two proposed environmental assessments by the city totalling nearly $500,000 for illegally discharging untreated wastewater into the sewer system.

The company has asked for an administrative review of three years of back fees for allegedly diverting about 21 million gallons of untreated wastewater around a meter used by the Bureau of Environmental Services to measure its discharges for billing purposes. The company is also expected to appeal civil fines for the same thing.

If BES doesn’t change it’s mind, the company will fight the penalties all the way through the courts, says local attorney John DiLorenzo, who has been retained to represent it.

Portland Bottling is one of the largest water users in the city, buying about 47 million gallons a year to bottle soda and energy drinks at its plant along Northeast Sandy Boulevard. It was also the largest contributor to the campaign for the proposed Portland Public Water District ballot measure that was on the May primary ballot.

The measure would have transferred management of BES and the Water Bureau from the City Council to an independently elected board. The company contributed $100,000 to the measure, which was overwhelmingly defeated.

The company was notified of the proposed fines in letters from BES dated June 19, one month after the election. The letter say BES documented the violation by placing a remote camera in a sewer pipe on Nov. 21, 2013. That was when initiative petitions were being circulated to refer the water district measure to the ballot.

The letters say the untreated wastewater overflowed from a pasteurizer at the plant and entered a floor drain over the past three years. The floor drain bypassed the meter used to measure discharges. None of it went directly into the Willamette River.

The company plugged the floor drain with concrete after being notified of the violations on Dec. 14, 2013. The amount of illegally discharged wastewater was estimated based on meter readings over the past three years, including before and

after the floor drain was plugged. The fines were determined by applying penalties to the estimates.

DiLorenzo is also the lead attorney representing ratepayers in the ongoing civil lawsuit alleging the City Council has illegally spent water and sewer funds.

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