Environment Picture

Neighbors of Grand Traverse area cherry plant force cleanup, changes

Williamsburg Receiving & Storage Co. will create odor monitoring staff
After six years enduring intense smells and numerous discharges of maraschino cherry wastewater from the Williamsburg Receiving & Storage Co. (WRS), a group of neighbors, supported by the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC), reached a settlement in Grand Traverse County Circuit Court earlier this year.

The neighbors, known as the Whitewater Residents Association, filed a lawsuit last April in hopes of resolving long-standing problems with air and water pollution at WRS. The cherry plant is located about seven miles north of Traverse City. A five-million-gallon wastewater lagoon at the site has now been eliminated.

The settlement specifies WRS will pay the neighbors $350,000 in damages. The company also will create an odor monitoring staff and install new odor sensing equipment at the plant. All cherry wastewater generated in the future will be hauled to nearby wastewater treatment plants instead of being stored at the site or sprayed on adjacent properties. Chris Bzdok, an environmental attorney for the neighbors and NMEAC, along with attorneys T. J. Andrews and Mike Grant of Olson Bzdok & Howard, worked closely with the neighbors and NMEAC to resolve all pollution problems at the site.

The company agreed to maintain a “wet scrubber” and other odor control equipment at the plant as well as spend about $100,000 to install monitors to measure hydrogen sulfide levels.

Robbin Bustance, who organized and led the citizens’ group, said she is “cautiously optimistic” that pollution problems at WRS have come to an end. Bustance and other neighbors have worked with Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) staff to resolve the odor problems since 1999.

DEQ had filed a lawsuit in February 2006 after a one-million-gallon wastewater lagoon spill occurred at WRS in November 2005. A modified consent judgment was also signed by Judge Thomas Power that resolves the DEQ lawsuit. The new judgment includes $100,000 in fines, along with requiring WRS to submit a remedial action plan for cleanup of all previous violations.

WRS attorney Joe Quandt said he expects the neighbors will take a wait-and-see approach toward the settlement until the 2007 cherry processing season is complete. “We’re confident the odors will be a thing of the past,” Quandt said. The WRS issue had been on the NMEAC Board of Directors’ agenda for over three years. Co-chair John Nelson said he is very hopeful the settlement will resolve both water and air pollution violations. He said wastewater discharges from the plant had reached the Petobego Natural Area and Petobego Creek, which flow to Grand Traverse Bay.

The maraschino cherries produced at WRS are purchased by the Milwaukee-based Sensient Technologies and are thought to be used in Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream.
-Greg Reisig, Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council
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