Officials Demand Answers, Action on Schreiber Foods Plant Issues
Dale Heberlig, Sentinel Reporter, February 12, 2011
A recent sewer issue and ongoing water problems at Schreiber Foods' cheese-making plant pose threats for Shippensburg's water and sewer systems, spurring borough and water authority officials to demand answers and action.
Shippensburg Borough Manager Earl Parshall served Schreiber operators with certified mail demanding details of a plan to correct water issues by Feb. 25. Authority members have discussed shutting off water to Schreiber if the company doesn't respond.
In the meantime, penalties levied by the state Department of Environmental Protection are likely after a recent overflow at Shippensburg's wastewater treatment plant that borough officials say stem from misuse or malfunction at Schreiber's EPA-mandated pretreatment plant that treats dairy solids generated by the cheese plant's manufacturing process.
Plant manager Chuck Music says the spill resulted in "a great amount of solids" discharged into Middle Spring Creek, a violation that's likely to draw penalties from DEP.
These issues come on the heels of a recent leak at a water line in the Schreiber plant that was estimated at 150 gallons per minute and was left uncorrected for days.
Schreiber spokesman Rob Byrne acknowledged neither issue when contacted by telephone. He said only that if there was a problem, Schreiber would work with the borough to address the issue.
Schreiber officials have a secretive history locally, declining in the past to even divulge to the media how many employees work at the Shippensburg plant.
Water problems linked to air-actuated water valves at the Schreiber plant that open and close instantaneously were a topic of discussion at the water authority's Feb. 8 meeting.
The air-actuated valves are blamed for triggering drops in water pressure at various locations in the water system and for causing water hammer conditions that jar water mains, creating risk of water line breaks.
Parshall says the complaints about air-actuated valves should be no surprise to Schreiber officials. Parshall says he pointed out the concerns to construction supervisors at the ongoing Schreiber expansion in December before following up with a written memo to Schreiber's Wisconsin headquarters last week.
"They know about this, and they have known it," Parshall reports. "This isn't the first time they have had this problem. It's been in other plants they've built with these valves. It's a serious problem that needs addressed."
Hence his notification letter, sent without prior direction from the authority or borough council.
Authority Chairman W. Edward Goodhart says Parshall took appropriate action.
"I support the letter 100 percent," Goodhart says. "If he (Parshall) comes in and asks us to shut off water to Schreiber, I'm betting he'll get what he asks for."
Goodhart says the current issues are not the first conflict with Schreiber.
"They have fought us tooth and nail on every issue since they purchased the plant from Raskas," Goodhart says, citing past flaps over the size of water lines, fire flow and the sewer pretreatment requirement.
He says Schreiber's reluctance to communicate openly is a recurring issue.
"If they won't correct the problem, I'll have no reluctance to shut off their water. That will take three (authority) members to do, of course."
Water department chief Louis Larson says his discussions with employees at the local Schreiber plant indicate the air-actuated valves are also creating pressure problems at other locations within the plant.
He says air-actuated valves are pneumatic, using pressurized air. The close so rapidly that pressure reduction valves installed throughout the authority's system cannot keep up with the speed of the air-actuated valves.
Larson says recording devices at two of the authority's wells and at a booster station record the reductions in pressure caused by the Schreiber valves. He says customer complaints are becoming more frequent.
Larson suggests using electrically operated valves that can be speed-controlled is one alternative to address the issue.
Goodhart, Larson and Parshall agree that damage to the water system is inevitable if the Schreiber practice continues.
Music says plant employees were alerted to the solids spill from Schreiber when alarms at the treatment plant sounded Saturday.
"When our people got there it was all over the place and had spilled into the creek," Music says.
Music says Schreiber employees told him the spill was caused by an error in their automated program that regulates the pretreatment plant.
"In their own words, the program worked like it was supposed to, but it was programmed wrong," Music says.
Parshall is skeptical of that explanation.
"The automated control explanation is a great story, but what we see is that they overloaded their plant, yet again," Parshall says. "This is a recurring problem. Until I see proof otherwise, what happened is they discharged 500,000 gallons when they're permitted for 175,000 gallons."
Parshall says the borough received no notification of the incident from Schreiber.
"When we called them Saturday night, they said the incident was all over, but it wasn't," Parshall says. "We continued to have problems Monday."
Parshall says Schreiber is responsible for payment of any fines that result, along with the cost for a private contractor hired for clean-up at the borough sewer plant.
Music points out that those payments will probably come out of borough coffers first and be reimbursed by Schreiber later.
More distressing, Music says, is that "we get the black eye for the damage to the stream