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Medford seeks grease relief

Grease from commercial kitchens and restaurants have been clogging Medford’s sewer pipes and have hampered operations at the regional water treatment plant.

Medford City Council voted Wednesday to initiate a three-step process to prevent commercial kitchens from discharging too much grease.

“We do need to make sure we keep this stuff out of our sanitary sewer system,” Councilor Dick Gordon said.

The city is responding to a $10,000 fine from the Oregon State Building Codes Division, but half the fine will be waived if the city takes action to reduce grease from clogging lines or from flowing into the regional treatment plant. Other cities in the valley will have to take similar steps.

Cory Crebbin, Public Works director, said the new ordinance will require commercial kitchens to take one of three steps to address grease problems.

Kitchens could take a sample of wastewater that is being discharged to see whether they’re producing high concentrations of grease.

Another step would be to install grease traps, or to make sure a grease trap is working effectively.

A third option is for commercial kitchens to pay a surcharge on wastewater to reimburse the treatment plant and to pay to help remove grease from pipes.

Crebbin said the city often sends remote cameras into pipes to see how badly they are clogged, noting that they sometimes find material that resembles “playdough.”

The danger with clogged pipes is that the wastewater can back up and pour out through manhole covers or into neighboring businesses or homes, Crebbin said.

That hasn’t happened yet in the city, Crebbin said, though he said city crews have found pipes that were so plugged that they could have potentially caused a problem.

Another issue is that too much grease in the system hampers the digesters at the treatment plant that break down the wastewater as part of the purification process, he said.

Crebbin said he didn’t have any idea how many commercial kitchens were located in the city, but said it could be more than 1,000, which includes restaurants, hotels, nursing homes and other facilities.

He said the city would likely deal with the problem on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m not saying we won’t go after everybody,” he said. “That’s not my immediate intent.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.