Cheese factory wants change

By Steve Hansen
The owner of the Tucumcari Mountain Cheese Factory has asked city officials to remove what he called the “nuclear option” from a city ordinance setting standards for wastewater sent to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
To Chuck Krause, owner of the cheese factory, the “nuclear option” is shutting off water to his expanding operation into which the city and Krause have poured $4.5 million in the past two years, he said.
Krause made his appeal before a City Commission work session after Thursday’s regular meeting of the commission. Work sessions are public, but the commission cannot make decisions, as it can in regular meetings.
Some recent problems with the factory’s water treatment equipment have meant the plant has released water to the wastewater treatment plant that has been too acidic.
Krause said he has been working with state environmental officials on solutions to the problems, which include adding a caustic material to neutralize the acidic wastewater, and just diluting the acidic water to reduce its acidity.
Officials said more than $140,000 in local tax money was invested in the factory in 2014 through the Local Economic Development Act.
Krause said he would be willing to truck the acidic wastewater to another location for disposal, but he is finding it difficult to live with the possibility of having water shut off by the city. He said his plant has been operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the growing national demand for his Feta cheese product.
“I want the nuclear option off the table,” he said.
Calvin Henson, manager of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, said he has told Krause that shutting off water would be the most serious consequence of failure to comply with the waste quality regulations.
City Manager Jared Langenegger said shutting off the water was meant only to be used as a last resort, to assure the ordinance was enforceable.
Krause asked the commission to consider other enforcement means, especially since Mayor Pro Tem Robert Lumpkin urged the commission to reconsider the water shutoff requirement. Lumpkin noted that the ordinance was passed only to accommodate Krause’s operation as the only business that could introduce high levels of contaminants to the wastewater plant.
Mayor Ruth Ann Litchfield said she appreciated the cheese factory’s importance to the city but also believed the ordinance needed to be enforceable.
The commission agreed to keep the discussion open.

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