A bottling plant and major local employer is at risk of being shut down due to repeated violations of federal wastewater regulations, city of Walla Walla officials announced in a release Friday, Aug. 27.
Refresco Beverages Group, a Netherlands-based beverage bottling company with worldwide revenues of $1.8 billion, operates a Walla Walla facility at 1164 Dell Ave. employing around 120 people.
The corporation may have its discharge permit revoked if it does not come into compliance by June 30, 2022, the city warned Friday.
“The importance of Walla Walla’s wastewater (sewer) treatment plant is difficult to overstate,” Shane Prudente, the city’s Public Works communications coordinator, wrote in the release.
The treatment plant is the oldest in the Pacific Northwest and second largest in Washington state, according to the release, and uses microorganisms to process wastewater. Once the water is treated, it is either returned to Mill Creek or diverted for crop irrigation, depending on the time of year.
“It is critical that the water discharged from the plant meet state and federal standards for cleanliness to protect the health and safety of people, agriculture and the environment,” Prudente’s news release stated.
Refresco has reportedly been cited dozens of times for repeated violations of wastewater rules, resulting in $393,000 in fines over the last three years.
“Fines usually encourage compliance,” the release noted. “However, Refresco has been slow in taking action to address the issues.”
The company’s slow response has impacted Walla Walla’s ability to, in turn, comply with federal and state discharge requirements. If the city is unable to meet those requirements, Walla Walla may receive fines, costs which would be borne by city tax payers, Prudente’s notice stated.
Refresco could not be reached for comment before deadline.
The company, which operates on the Port of Walla Walla property, has been working to bring its operations into compliance, said Port Executive Director Pat Reay in a Friday interview.
“Probably not in the timely manner the city would want to see, but they’re making a sizable investment to address this pattern,” Reay said.
In addition to being one of the region’s largest employers, it will soon be one of the county’s larger tax payers, he added. They currently operate out of a Port-owned facility, but intend to finalize purchase of the building by May 2022, Reay said.
“From the Port’s perspective, it’s a business that the Port has worked with for decades,” Reay said. “These are good manufacturing jobs in our Valley. We continue to work with them on solutions.”