Seeking new answers to cut $31million in water, sewer costs
SANTA ROSA — Packaged vegetarian foods maker Amy’s Kitchen plans to come up with a new recipe in coming months for a major production expansion after learning that its original idea would cost about $31 million just for supplying the new plant with water and treating what goes down the drain.
Based on an estimated timeframe of two and a half to three years to build a larger Sonoma County plant, about time the Petaluma-based company is likely to need that capacity, Amy’s wants to come up with a solution in the next six months for reducing the proposed operation’s demand for water and wastewater treatment, according to Mark Rudolph, chief financial officer.
“We’re talking to wineries and other users like us, and the city is working with us on conservation programs,” Mr. Rudolph said. “We’re looking at all angles. If we can conquer the wastewater issue, that changes the game for us.”
The new plant could employ up to 800 in Sonoma County at full production.
Based on current operations, the existing 120,000-square-foot southwest Santa Rosa plant uses 200,000 gallons of fresh water daily. The company has been scouting the county for 10 to 12 acres of land to create a 250,000-square-foot plant, likely in phases, Mr. Rudolph said.
One property that could satiate Amy’s appetite for growth is the former G&G Foods processing plant on Bellevue Avenue also in the southwest area of Santa Rosa. The property has nine acres of adjacent land. The facility has been idle since changing hands twice in the past couple of years.
Problem is, engineering proposals sought to scale Amy’s current processes in Santa Rosa to a new facility, complete with a dedicated wastewater treatment plant that’s been installed in Santa Rosa and a newer plant in the Medford area of Oregon.
As is common in a number of North Bay local governments in recent years, water and, especially, sewer demand fees are high to both cover the costs of high levels of treatment and limit water usage. For what Amy’s engineering team originally wanted, the city of Santa Rosa came back with rates for demand fees that were “quite large,” Mr. Rudolph said.
“We recognized we overstated the amount of water we thought we needed, and also it was a wakeup call for us to get more into a sustainability mode of recycling and reusing,” Mr. Rudolph said. “Our wastewater contains organic and vegetarian food byproducts, so cleaning it may not be too difficult.”
So, Amy’s is considering water-conservation measures such as using boilers to create steam for preliminary washdowns of equipment, something not currently done.
The company also has been figuring out how to eke out additional production capacity in Santa Rosa and Medford, so that any new Sonoma County plant to come along in three years, barring unforeseen processes to get clearances for land-use zoning changes and protected-species habitat mitigation, Mr. Rudolph said.
This isn’t the first time Amy’s has had to “find a plant inside of a plant” because of unanticipated delays in expanding production. A few years ago, the company purchased a former bakery facility to make food for East Coast markets. Engineering challenges converting it to Amy’s processes turned out to be daunting, so the project was put on the back burner.
Meanwhile, Amy’s continues to move forward with a plan to build a vegetarian fast-food restaurant with a drive-through lane in Rohnert Park near the entrance to Graton Resort & Casino. The food producers submitted plans to the city two weeks ago. The goal is to have the joint operational a year from now.
Helping the timing of the restaurant project, located at the corner of Wilfred Avenue and Redwood Way, are the casino developer’s widening of and addition of turn lanes to Wilfred this year.
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