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Didion speaks

Riley Didion, president of Didion Milling and Didion Ethanol, updates the Cambria Village Board Monday on various Didion-related issues, and reiterates the company's contention that contaminated wastewater coming into Cambria's treatment system is not industrial waste from the ethanol plant.

CAMBRIA – From now on, workers at Didion Ethanol can’t even flush their toilets into Cambria’s wastewater treatment system.

Village Public Works Director Tom Tietz said a wastewater main leading from the decade-old plant has been capped – as Tietz had warned company officials would happen almost a month ago, after he concluded that industrial wastewater from Didion Ethanol was being dumped into a treatment system that’s not built to handle it.

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Didion -- front file

Didion Ethanol President Riley Didion told the Cambria Village Board on Monday that he disputes claims that the ethanol plant is the source of contaminated water discharged into the village's wastewater treatment system.

On Friday, a contractor cut and capped the force main leading from the ethanol plant.

From now on, Tietz said, any wastewater from the plant, including water down the sink or from flushing toilets, will have to be collected onsite and hauled away.

Tietz said it’s too soon to know whether capping the line has stopped the flow of contaminated wastewater into the village’s treatment system, as it takes about five days to get results from tests.

Company President Riley Didion came to Monday’s Village Board meeting in the hope, he said, of restoring good communication with village officials.

He also denied that Didion Ethanol was the source of the contaminated wastewater.

“At no time did we discharge industrial waste,” he said.

According to Didion, company officials had recently taken televised images of all the wastewater lines emanating from the plant, located just across Cabbage Road from the village limits, in the town of Courtland.

The televised images showed no flow of wastewater from the ethanol plant into the treatment facility, Didion said.

Tietz responded, “We’re not on the same page.”

Trustee Cody Doucette, who is also the Cambria fire chief, said it’s impossible to run a TV camera down the 1.25-inch diameter force main emanating from Didion Ethanol.

“That’s where the discharge is coming from – your force main,” he said.

Tietz’s report to the Village Board on the Didion situation included his tests of water samples, with yellow highlights covering the pages – each highlight representing an instance in which the biological oxygen demand and suspended solids exceeded the standards of 200 milligrams per liter.

Of the 14 samples whose results he’d received from the laboratory where they were measured, nine of the samples exceeded the limit for biological oxygen demand, with the highest sample showing a measure of 1,536 milligrams per liter. Eleven of the samples showed high levels of suspended solids, he said, and the highest level shown in a sample came to 1,192 milligrams per liter.

At times, Tietz said, he could tell the wastewater was dirty just by looking at its color – sometimes red or tan, but mostly black.

“There have been a handful of days when the smell was so bad while sampling, I had to wear a respirator,” he wrote in his report. “The smell can only be described as ‘unholy.’”

Tietz said Didion’s own metering system shows more than 23,000 gallons of wastewater was discharged over a 24-day period. If all that discharge had truly come from flushed toilets, he said, that would equate to 641 flushes per day – even factoring in other sources, such as water going down a drain.

On Sept. 13. a letter written by the village’s attorney, Jesse Spankowski, was hand-delivered to Didion Ethanol, calling on the company to “cease and desist” discharge of wastewater that exceeds the maximum levels of contamination, as set by village ordinances.

The letter also said the ordinances call for fines of $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent day the discharge continues.

Whether the fines will be assessed remains to be decided, Tietz said.

Company’s response

A recent response from the company’s corporate counsel, Coral Didion, said the ordinance, as she reads it, calls for fines to be assessed only if the company is convicted of discharging contaminated wastewater.

Coral Didion’s response letter also included an open records request for various village records, including documents, emails, memos, reports, studies, notes and test results.

Tietz told the Village Board Monday he complied with that request, by putting 28 gigabytes of data onto a flash drive, including videos, sample reports and documentation of the chain of custody of tested samples.

“They know everything that I know, to date,” Tietz said. “I’m not hiding anything. It doesn’t benefit me or the village to hide anything.”

Riley Didion’s report to the Village Board on Monday also included matters not related to the wastewater issue, including:

  • As of Monday, the ethanol plant has gone 800 days without a reported safety incident.
  • The Old Mill Foundation, which the company runs, has approved a $50,000 donation to create a public fitness center at Cambria High School.
  • The company is in its final week of a food drive for the village’s food pantry.
  • In 10 years, Didion has quadrupled the amount of corn it has purchased from area farmers.

Until recently, a “Didion update” was a standing Village Board agenda item. Riley Didion said he’d like to return to that practice, to restore a good relationship with village officials.

“I feel like there’s hurt, and a lack of trust going on,” he said.

Special session likely

Several trustees, however, said they were offended by allegations that village officials trespassed on Didion property or violated company safety practices during investigations of the source of the contaminated wastewater.

Doucette said the village hand-delivered a letter informing Didion officials of the situation, and gave them ample time to correct it, yet the discharges of dirty water continued.

“We’re getting accused of trespassing,” Doucette said. “You’re trying to make the village look bad, when all we’re trying to do is make our wastewater system work.”

Riley Didion said he didn’t care to settle issues such as this in Monday’s Village Board meeting – prompting Doucette to note that, by state law, the Village Board must meet in open session, and does not have the option of discussing the issues behind closed doors.

The Village Board will likely have to hold a special meeting anyway, on another Didion-related matter – the installation of a new water main capable of handling the fire suppression system in the now-under-construction milling plant.

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde or contact her at 608-745-3587.

Portage Daily Register Reporter