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Franklin ordinance regulates grease disposal in quest to prevent clogged pipes

fr greaseThe new wastewater treatment facility in Franklin cost the town more than $5 million to build, but within months of its summer 2013 opening, superintendent Wayne Price noticed a problem. 

“Within six months of putting that into operation, we had fats build up on the walls,” Price said. “It was already getting 2 inches, 3 or 4 inches of fat all around, and there’s no way for us to treat it. We had to do something.”

That “something” came in the form of a fats, oils and greases ordinance that the town board adopted unanimously at its November meeting. 

“It is a problem,” said Mayor Bob Scott. “It is a very serious problem, and I wasn’t aware of it.”

The issue stems from the fact that fats, oils and greases congeal in water, and they don’t break down. So, if a restaurant washes its grease down the sink day after day instead of disposing of it in some other way, the deposits build up. If the bulk of restaurants in town do the same thing, those deposits multiply and can result in blockages and breaks in the sewer line. 

“The state of North Carolina, they frown on that, and it causes towns to face fines and consequences,” Price said. In the past five years, three or four such breaks have occurred in Franklin. 

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Price’s department is required to check on restaurants monthly and make sure that they’re using their grease traps — structures that allow grease and water to separate before allowing the water to flow out into the sewer system — but the town lacked an ordinance with any real teeth to enforce their use. 

“All we could do was just say, ‘Hey, you need to check your grease trap,’” Price said. 

Not everyone was interested in doing so. At one unnamed restaurant, Price said, “They were taking it down to the drain in the shower floor. It congealed and blocked up the sewer line in their kitchen and their bathroom.”

The only recourse Price had was to threaten shutting off their water, but many restaurants are located in mini-mall buildings that operate from a single water meter. In those cases, they wouldn’t be able to shut off the water of the offending restaurant without affecting its law-abiding neighbors. 

Other restaurants just weren’t aware that they even had a grease trap or that they had to maintain it. 

“They were using them but didn’t know that they needed to keep them clean or didn’t know that they needed to check them,” Price said. “The filter would block up. It would cake up with grease and then it would start pushing grease up through the top of the ground out of their grease traps.”

The new ordinance allows the town to levy fines, discontinue water service and notify the Macon County Health Department, giving it more power to combat grease offenders. 

It also lays out a set of standards for grease traps, which all new businesses — including those that have simply undergone a change in ownership or are taking up residence in existing buildings — must comply with. As well, businesses must obtain permits to properly dispose of their wastewater. 

“It’s just education, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this also, but we had to have an adopted policy so we could go on and educate,” Price said. 

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