Bradenton wants to plug grease flow in wastewater system

myoung@bradenton.comMay 19, 2014 

BRADENTON -- For some, there is nothing quite like a big pile of bacon-cheese fries steaming away next to a tall, juicy burger or the knowledge the bigger the grease stain, the better the pizza.

Whether it's a burger, pizza, fried chicken or a multitude of other greasy items, most hungry patrons don't give much thought to what happens to the remnants after walking out the door.

The city of Bradenton has worked for many years under the assumption responsible restaurant owners care about what escapes into the city's wastewater system, according to Public Works Director Claude Tankersley. That assumption left city wastewater lines open for abuse.

The city is working to close the door on potential grease woes with a new ordinance regulating grease disposed of by any business or food service provider and providing for enforcement penalties through city inspections.

It's a first for Bradenton. Grease traps are subject to state and federal regulations, but restaurant owners have operated without city oversight, according to a Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurant spokesperson, who told the Herald grease traps are not part of routine health inspections. FDHS does inform local jurisdictions if they happen to see an obvious issue.

Many municipalities have created ordinances to enforce and regulate grease traps at the local level. Bradenton will have that same enforcement capability if the ordinance passes at a May 28 second reading.

"I was a consultant for 20 years before coming here in 2007," said Tankersley. "I've seen other cities that have had some serious problems with the amount of grease getting into their wastewater systems and clogging up neighborhoods, but that isn't the case here."

Because there haven been

so few incidents -- with one exception last year -- Tankersley said he assumed the city had a mechanism in place to ensure restaurants were grease-trap compliant.

That is not the case yet. The Bradenton City Council grease ordinance will allow enforcement to ensure the city wastewater system continues to flow smoothly.

Tankersley said the issue last year in East Bradenton along State Road 64 was an isolated incident in the seven years he has been with the city.

"We had an incident last year where a line got clogged with grease, and we investigated it and we found a large number of restaurants were on that line," he said.

Tankersley said the experience of working with the restaurants was very positive and all were "cooperative and pleasant to work with. But what we realized is that if another situation ever develops and we run into an uncooperative restaurant owner, we didn't have anything that requires monitoring and inspections of grease traps."

The ordinance, which passed a first reading May 7, should have no immediate impact on restaurant owners other than getting a written notice if the ordinance is adopted.

"Their responsibility is the same as always," said Tankersley. "They operate the grease traps based on Florida building codes and Florida Department of Environmental Protection standards. There will be no more burden on a restaurant owner the day the ordinance passes than there is today. This is more about the city's responsibility."

Tankersley said the only time a restaurant will face fees under the ordinance is if a similar incident happened that requires multiple inspections along a clogged wastewater line.

Wastewater flows downhill by gravity until it reaches the lowest levels possible, at which time it flows into a pump station that forces the wastewater through a smaller pipe using pressure. Tankersley said it is those pipes that get clogged if they contain too much grease, which could affect an entire neighborhood.

"We found all of the restaurants were in compliance last year," he said. "It happened once and hasn't happened again, so we still don't know what happened or even if it was restaurant related. For all we know it could have been a homeowner deep frying a turkey and dumped the entire bucket of grease down a drainpipe."

Acting on a suggestion from Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo, Tankersley said the city will send notices to restaurants after the ordinance vote outlining city authority.

If a restaurant knows its grease trap is not in compliance, the ordinance will allow 180 days from May 28 to come into compliance.

Vice Mayor Bemis Smith said he is concerned with any ordinance that "hammers the little guy," and wanted to ensure small businesses weren't being charged the same as a larger businesses for inspections needed along an entire wastewater line.

Tankersley said there should be no additional charges if the restaurant is in compliance and gives the city a "best judgment" opportunity to differentiate between restaurants that produce more grease than smaller establishments.

Rick Willats, owner of O'Bricks Irish Pub & Martini Bar and O'Bricks Grill, 427 12th St. W., said he wasn't aware of what the city was doing, but didn't have a problem with it.

"In the 40 years I've been doing this, I've never had a problem with a grease trap," said Willats. "They come once a month to clean it out and I have a plumber come to clean the drain every couple of months just to make sure."

Willats said he would have no issue with city inspections because: "If someone does have a restaurant and doesn't have a grease trap hooked up, it would be a problem with all that grease doing down a wastewater pipe."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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