CHARLES TOWN — The city of Ranson has them. The city of Charles Town wants them. Charles Town’s utility board says it doesn’t need them.
Ultimately, the Charles Town City Council voted 5-2 Monday to require the utility board to discuss a policy to require insulation manufacturer Rockwool — and other new industrial sewer customers — to provide its plumbing blueprints to the city. “I don’t think it’s Ranson’s obligation to give them,” said Councilman Mike Brittingham. “I think it’s Rockwool’s obligation to give them.”
Council members have sought a copy of the blueprints for Rockwool’s factory in Ranson for more than seven months. The Danish company agreed to turn over those plans sometime in April, but now it has agreed only to show the council the plans, not provide a copy.
The utility board, an independent water and sewer utility which the City Council only broadly oversees, has the authority to request a copy of the plumbing blueprints but hasn’t. CTUB’s staff have said they don’t need the plumbing plans to ensure the factory doesn’t violate its sewage discharge limits and safety restrictions.
The council can only request — not demand — that CTUB seek copies of the blueprints.
The City of Ranson already has a copy of the plumbing blueprints, which should be public documents available to anyone. But some Charles Town council members didn’t want to request a copy of those blueprints or even ask to see them to avoid a possible argument with its neighboring municipality if the request were denied.
The council’s action Monday was prompted by an Aug. 9 letter from Rockwool that formally turned down the city’s months-long request to obtain copies of the factory’s plumbing plans. The letter from Rockwool General Counsel Kenneth Cammarato, however, agreed to show city council members those plans and to explain and discuss them.
“I trust that the [Charles Town City Council] is not directing document requests to Rockwool on matters that are outside the scope of its legislative authority,” Cammarato also wrote. “And I likewise assume that the [City Council] is not singling Rockwool out for disparate treatment from other users of CTUB’s combined utility services.”
The blueprints request is tied to a vote by a previous City Council in March to let the West Virginia Infrastructure and Jobs Development Council fund the construction of a $10.5 million sewer line to serve the factory and other future and existing development.
At Monday’s meeting, City Manager Daryl Hennessy, who serves as chairman of CTUB’s board of directors, said the utility’s staff told him that they are able to monitor the content and volume of industrial and domestic wastewater that the factory will discharge into the city’s sewer system.
“They know where the sewer line is,” Hennessy said. “There are meters that will measure the amount of the [effluent] flow. There are samples that will test the content of the flow. There are ways that they will get the information that they need about what’s happening on site.”
Hennessy also said CTUB has reviewed preliminary but not-yet-completed plumbing plans for the factory and that Rockwool will likely claim “some degree of trade secrets” against publicly revealing every aspect of them. “And I don’t know what that is,” he said of such a possible claim.
Hennessy said CTUB has a new formal policy with sewer user agreements that spell out the actions the utility can take if its industrial customers violate those agreements. “There is a policy in place for industrial users,” he said. “I think what I’m hearing you say, though, that’s not enough.”
Mayor Bob Trainor said it’s appropriate for the city to obtain the factory’s plumbing plans. He said CTUB should adopt a standard policy to renew and obtain copies of final blueprints for all of its industrial customers. “It does not sound unreasonable that the utility should have the drawings,” he said. “But I think it’s up to the utility to formally ask Rockwool for the drawings.”
Rockwool’s factory is on schedule to open in the autumn of 2020.
Both Councilmen Jim Kratovil and Chet Hines voted against Monday’s blueprints vote.
Kratovil questioned why CTUB’s current policies weren’t sufficient to uphold its safety and capacity restrictions against Rockwool or any other industrial customer.
Hines said he thought the council was overly complicating the issue. Why not go to Ranson and look at the plans there? he asked. “This doesn’t make any sense to me,” Hines said. “Quick and easy, let’s get it done and go.”
Brittingham, who has repeatedly spoken out against the city’s funding of the sewer line, said CTUB — along with the Council and the public — needs a copy of the blueprints as a permanent record to ensure Rockwool follows those plans. “We need to protect our sewer system, and we need to protect our finances,” he said.
At one point Kratovil asked whether obtaining satisfactory blueprints would ease Brittingham’s overall concerns about the entire factory project. “It would certainly change my mind that I would at least be comforted to know that what they are putting into our system is what they told us they were putting into our system,” Brittingham answered.
Calling CTUB a “very strong advocate for building the sewer line,” Brittingham said a fire marshal’s permit for the factory shows nine rooms with floor drains that are listed has spaces where industrial processes will take place. “Those [floor drains] go somewhere,” he said.
Brittingham said he would review the factory’s plumbing plans with Rockwool, but that meeting would not satisfy his need for the city to keep a copy of those plans on file. He noted that CTUB will construct, operate and later own the sewer line. The utility will be responsible for cleaning the factory’s wastewater under a permit from the state, Brittingham said, noting that the utility’s own project specifications manual states that various documents can be requested during the approval of projects that would discharge waste into the city’s municipal sewer system.
It’s also now standard for utilities to request copies of such plumbing plans to review and keep to ensure their rules and restrictions are minded, Brittingham said, adding his family’s own daycare center in Purcellville, Va., had to do that. “This is a common practice of a modern utility, not something crazy, unique or special,” Brittingham said. “However, here we do have a very special user. It’s a 500,000-square-foot industrial manufacturing facility.”
Councilwoman Jean Petti agreed. She said CTUB should require such documentation as a standard condition for serving industrial sewer customers. “I think the general public would love to see us have a more concrete policy. I think it would protect the City Council, CTUB and applicants.”
Petti added that a pesticide business she operates in Maryland was required to allow city, county and state officials — and even neighbors — examine its drains, plumbing and sewer connections before it opened. “I was not allowed to do anything until everyone was reassured that it wasn’t going to be contaminating the Potomac River or exploding.”
Christine Wimer, a veterinarian and a Rockwool opponent, said during a public comment period that CTUB’s promise to test Rockwool’s wastewater is insufficient. She said the utility hasn’t demonstrated that it knows all of the various chemicals it should test for that the factory will use in its manufacturing process. “We need to know what’s going down [the sewer] so we can know what to test for. We should know ahead of time that those tests exist,” she said. “We should know that the appropriate people are actually taking the samples, those samples are [taken] at random times and unannounced.”