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Wednesday, 17 July 2013 13:31

Heinzelmannchen Brewery asks TWSA to tweak water and sewer fees

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What goes in must come out: that’s the basic premise behind your water and sewer bill. Sewer fees simply mirror the water bills. 

 

But that formula has the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority in a bind when it comes to customers that don’t follow the in-and-out mold. 

Heinzelmannchen Brewery is one of those customers. 

Much of the water that enters the brewery doesn’t go down the drain pipes. Quite the opposite: it goes out the door as beer.

“What they’re doing is taking that water to make beer,” said TWSA Board Member Tom Sawyer. “So all the water they’re taking in doesn’t go out the other end. It’s really pretty unique.”

Heinzelmannchen Brewery is eyeing a move from downtown Sylva to a warehouse near the train depot in Dillsboro. The brewery would need new water and sewer hook-ups at their new digs but have asked TWSA to refigure how it calculates hook-up costs on the sewer side of the equation.

This has thrown the authority for a bit of a loop.

The authority charges hook-up fees to new or expanding customers — a one-time fee that is meant to be set aside for inevitable sewer and water expansions down the road. The fees for both water and sewer use are calculated based on the amount of water consumption at the building.

However, businesses like canning facilities, bottling companies and breweries are different. Taking a guess at their sewer fee based on their water usage is inaccurate.

Sawyer said the conundrum has made the authority re-examine its fee scale to ensure local breweries, or similar operations that may open in Jackson County down the road, are treated fairly. 

“Were trying to be responsive to the needs of the community and the needs of business,” Sawyer said.

But TWSA Executive Director Dan Harbaugh said there are other issues at play, like the nature of the wastewater that will leave Heinzelmannchen’s expanded operation. Swimming with beer-making microbes, proteins and cleaning agents — all necessary to make beer or clean out vats — it is important that those contaminants don’t get unleashed into the sewer system all at once.

Harbaugh wants the brewery to install some sort of retention tank if it moves to Dillsboro to collect the wastewater and dispel it slowly into the pipes. The biological colonies that break down waste could be disrupted by an influx of alien agents and drastic changes in pH.

“We want the wastewater stream coming into the plant to be controlled,” Harbaugh said. “The brewery isn’t a continuous flow; they work in batches.”

If TWSA cuts the brewery a break on its sewer hook-up fee, it could incentivize the brewery to install a tank.

The savings to Heinzelmannchen could be significant, as much as 80 percent off its impact fee. Those fees can range from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. The newest student housing project in Cullowhee paid around $60,000. 

Harbaugh expects to bring an adjusted special scale before the board by September.

Jackson County Commissioner Doug Cody, who sits on the TWSA board, said the changes could be good for industry recruitment. He was pleased the fees are being addressed.

“I don’t think that issue has ever been addressed by the TWSA board,” Cody said. “I think the board as a whole now has come to the realization that we’ve got to have economic development.”

The brewery owners had previously declined to comment for a story about their move until they had firmer plans in place to share.

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