Jack Robson may find little relief from the regulatory deadline his Bend business faces, but at least he sparked a conversation.
The Bend City Council, at a July 19 work session before its regular meeting, is scheduled to discuss whether city regulations imposed on businesses are the least burdensome possible. Councilor Bill Moseley asked the topic be put on the agenda.
“Jack isn’t the only one,” Moseley said Tuesday. “But he’s an easy example.”
Robson, co-owner of High Desert Pure, which produces marijuana extracts using carbon dioxide, faces an Aug. 1 deadline to install a manhole inside the business on NE Empire Avenue.
The city requires a manhole, or port, in businesses in industrial and commercial zones so that city inspectors may draw a sample of effluent from the site. That allows the city to check that unauthorized, hazardous substances that can damage the sewage treatment system aren’t discharged into the system, or track those discharges back to their source.
“Why is it being required of us?” Robson asked. “There is no effluent.”
High Desert Pure does not flush waste from the extraction process into the sewer, he said. The gas is vented and the leftover organic material, about 30 pounds a week, is taken to the Deschutes County Knott Landfill.
“We put nothing down the drain other than water,” Robson said.
However, the city took the opportunity when High Desert Pure moved into the building last year to require he install the inspection port.
That’s standard procedure in cases where the building use or owner changes, said Ryan Oster, Bend city engineer.
Under the city industrial pre-treatment program, businesses such as breweries must screen their waste before it’s discharged into the sewers. Robson was exempt from the pre-treatment program, Oster said, but High Desert Pure holds only a temporary certificate of occupancy until the manhole is in place. A nearby manhole is connected to High Desert Pure, but effluent from other sources upstream mixes there, too, Oster said.
The city in March gave High Desert Pure three months to install a manhole, he said. That three months has come and gone, and Robson paid $627 for another, shorter extension. Come Aug. 1, he may stop production or pay a $750-per-day fine until the manhole is installed.
“The city has been diligently working with this owner to come up with a solution to allow this property to move forward,” wrote City Manager Eric King to city councilors and city staffers June 14. “We do understand the additional cost this puts on the businesses, but it is an essential part of operation and maintaining the city’s sewer system.”
Part of the problem, Robson said, is that building contractors in and around Bend are busy. He obtained an estimate from one, Latham Excavation, Bend, for more than $8,000, but the contractor can’t schedule the work in time to beat the deadline, Robson said.
In addition to the manhole question, High Desert Pure was shut down temporarily while the business took care of safety issues in the building earlier this year, Oster said.
Dealing with the city has left him feeling frustrated, Robson said. He said he doesn’t believe the city is working in the best interest of its business community by being too strict in its regulatory enforcement.
“If you were to ask them, what they say is, ‘Hey, we’re trying to uphold the rules and legitimate policies that city has enacted,’” he said. But months of endless email communications and threats of fines are not conducive to establishing a business, he said.
“Who benefits from that?” he said. “I don’t think anybody benefits from that.”
Moseley said he sees room for discretion on the part of city staff in situations such as Robson’s.
He said he’s heard similar stories from other business owners. He’s also aware of cases where a business owner with a unique problem found relief by appealing directly to city hall.
“We (city council) can bring attention to the issue that will cause city staff to exercise discretion to work with city businesses,” said Moseley, a business owner. “It happens all the time.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7815, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s note: This story has been changed from the original to reflect the correct location of High Desert Pure.