WARRENTON — A new fish meal plant is being proposed near the Astoria Regional Airport in Warrenton, but the city wants the Port of Astoria to first solve a wastewater leak.

Scoular is a global animal food company based in Nebraska and listed as one of Forbes magazine’s 100 largest private businesses. The company is exploring a 14,400-square-foot processing plant along Airport Road that would turn fish meal and oils into pet food and related products.

Airport Industrial Park

The Port of Astoria has struggled to develop the Airport Industrial Park in Warrenton.

The company specializes in the logistics and processing of grain and food ingredients. Amy Bailey, a spokeswoman for Scoular, said the company has been planning for some time to expand fish meal processing.

“Warrenton makes a lot of sense for us as the location, because it’s close to the raw material supply in the Warrenton-Astoria area,” she said. “But there’s a lot of stages that we still need to work through on that. So we’re at very, very early design and feasibility stages.”

A report on the potential impact of the plant estimated it would pump out on average 20,000 gallons a day, comparable to 200 dwellings. Collin Stelzig, the city’s public works director, recently told the City Commission it would represent about 4% of Warrenton’s average water treatment, already at around 90% of capacity.

The city has other approved projects yet to be built worth up to 400 additional dwelling units of wastewater capacity, Stelzig said, and another nearly 260 dwelling units worth of projects not yet approved but possibly coming in the next three years.

“Currently, without this project, we expect that we’re going ... to meet our capacity in 2024 — somewhere around that time,” Stelzig said of wastewater treatment. “And with the fish processor, we could be before 2022.”

He cautioned that some approved projects might not come to fruition, giving the city more time to increase capacity. But the city is looking to move up an expansion of its wastewater plant with more projects certain to come, he said.

In his report, Stelzig said Scoular has told him the plant won’t grow beyond its initial footprint because of a lack of available seafood product within a reasonable proximity. He recommended the city negotiate special wastewater rates if the plant does want to expand.

Part of the issue with capacity is the airport, where the Port pumps back about five times as much wastewater as it receives in treated water from the city. Warrenton wants the problem fixed before a fish processing plant moves forward.

The city and the Port have had an intergovernmental agreement to work on the issue since 2005. Business Oregon recently helped hire an engineer to study the issue. The Port has run smoke tests and looked at water lines with cameras. But there are no immediate solutions, Gary Kobes, the Port’s airport manager, recently told the City Commission.

“We’re now, with the camera work, looking at the integrity of the system,” he said. “And in the Port’s portion of the system, we’ve found some problems in the pipes, the manholes. It doesn’t necessarily account for the volume of water that we’re seeing, but we have some structural issues.”

Kobes previously told the Port Commission that a high-pressure water system might be more cost-effective than relining or replacing the wastewater infrastructure at the airport. Pressure sewers help reduce the cost of pipes and maintenance. The Port is also working with the state on how to fund such improvements, Kobes said.

Most of the business park outside the airport is considered wetlands. The Port is trying to delineate where the wetlands are, and should ultimately have about 11 acres to develop at the industrial park, Kobes said.

Port Commissioner Robert Stevens came with Kobes to the City Commission to reiterate the importance of the project and the Port’s commitment to solve the airport’s wastewater issues.

“We are committed to partnering with the city of Warrenton and move this project forward and get the cannery done,” Stevens said. “We want to see it done. It’s a benefit to both the city and the Port.”

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.