WARRENTON - "It's just a pipe," Craig Urness, a top executive with Pacific Coast Seafood Group, told the throng attending a dedication ceremony at the company's Warrenton processing plant Thursday, "but it took a lot of people, a lot of moving parts, to get where we are today."
The new outfall pipe is a joint public-private partnership between Pacific Coast Seafoods Company, Pacific Surimi Co. Inc. and the city of Warrenton. The project's successful completion is the reason the plant is still in operation.
Urness said company officials strongly considered shutting down Pacific Coast Seafoods in 2001 and moving its operations elsewhere, after the Department of Environmental Quality said the plant could not continue its historic discharge of fish processing wastewater into the nearby Skipanon River. But the community, the city of Warrenton and local, state and federal officials worked with Pacific Coast Seafoods to secure funding for the outfall pipe.
"Pacific Coast reached out as other people reached in. It's a microcosm of the world we live in," said Mark Ellsworth, a member of the governor's Economic Revitalization Team. "I salute this company," he said, adding that the governor "likes projects where we can help communities get to 'yes'."
"It's the kind of cooperation we don't always see between the federal, state and local governments and private business," said Skip Hauke, executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Warrenton City Commissioner Mark Kujala, whose own small seafood company does business with Pacific Coast, said the company affects a lot of people in the community besides the employees of the plant. "Its economic impact is felt throughout the community. It's just a tremendous asset," Kujala said.
Pacific Coast employs several hundred people at the Warrenton plant and has a $3 million-plus payroll. Its surimi operation, which will be able to resume operation now that the outfall pipe is in place, is a major purchaser of city water. A judge suspended surimi processing last year, pending the new pipe and an approved wastewater discharge plan.
Kujala, who represented the city at the dedication ceremony, said it was fortunate that the city had to update its wastewater treatment plant at the same time Pacific Coast Seafoods needed to change its discharge practices. "So we worked together. They were able to secure grant money for a portion of the wastewater treatment facility and we were able to work with them to extend the service line so they could put their processed water, which is filtered and screened, over to our outfall. It kept them off the Skipanon River and allowed them to process more."
"It was the correct thing to do to benefit Pacific Coast Seafoods as well as to help the environment," added Warrenton City Manager Ed Madere. "It takes the effluent from fish processing out of the Skipanon and places it in the main channel of the Columbia River, which is able to accommodate it."
Two pipes go into the city's outfall pipe, one from the processing plant and another, larger one, from the city's new wastewater treatment plant, which is set to be completed in June. Madere said the city's agreement with Pacific Coast was that the public's share of the cost of the $1.2 million outfall project would not exceed $395,000, and it appears that it will be less than that. He said the city was able to obtain two federal grants for the treatment plant, of which the outfall pipe is a component, along with a pump station. The first, for $950,000, was presented to the city by U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in March 2004 at a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony for the wastewater treatment plant. A second federal grant of $250,000 was awarded later. U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., was also instrumental in securing the federal grant money for the project.
Pacific Coast Seafoods also built a new pump house and water storage facility at its plant, to make sure there would be no backup from the outfall pipe and to make sure the treated discharge flows adequately through the approximately one-mile long pipe that runs under the plant's property and continues underneath the adjacent sawmill, owned by Weyerhaeuser, on its way to the city's new wastewater treatment plant. There it joins up with the city's outfall pipe, which sends treated wastewater into the Columbia River.
After the dedication ceremony, there was a tour of the Warrenton High School fish hatchery and local restoration projects. Both are beneficiaries of recent grants by Pacific Coast Seafoods Company and Pacific Surimi Co. Inc. to settle penalties for past wastewater violations with DEQ.
Todd Cullison, of the Skipanon Watershed Council and the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce, accepted a $99,000 check from the company, which he said would be used to restore some flood plain habitat a mile downstream from Cullaby Lake in Warrenton and to improve a dam at Cullaby Lake that adjusts its water level.
A $50,146 check was presented to the high school fish hatchery program. Kujala said he remembers the hatchery program fondly from his own school days and is glad to see such strong support for it from the company. Brian Bigelow, facility manager for Pacific Surimi, who suggested giving the penalty money to the hatchery, said many employees are graduates of Warrenton High School.
Bigelow works with the students involved in the program, which had closed in 2003 for lack of funding and was revived in 2004, thanks to the determination of Henry Balensifer. Now a WHS junior, Balensifer took over management of the fish hatchery as his class project last year.