Grease is the word…at the end of FOG: Bloomington council revises law on how restaurants keep fats, oils out of sewer

An aerial view of the Dillman Road wastewater treatment facility south of Bloomington, where grease from the city’s FOG (fat, oil and grease) program can be hauled, where it oxidizes in the sun. (The image is dated April 2020 in the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property records.)

“The way we handle grease at the [Dillman Road wastewater treatment] plant, it’s actually discharged into a lagoon where it is oxidized in the sun.”

That was city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) director Vic Kelson talking to the Bloomington city council on Wednesday about the grease that about 600 local restaurants clean out of their traps and are allowed to haul to the city’s wastewater treatment plant south of town.

The item on the city council’s agenda was a change to the ordinance on the FOG (fats, oils, and grease) program, which requires restaurants (food service establishments) to use grease traps to keep it from clogging up the city’s sanitary sewer system. The ordinance change was approved unanimously.

After the ordinance change, the program is still in place but gives restaurants a cheaper option in grease retention devices. The revised ordinance also establishes a “preferred pumper program” for haulers to take the grease from the traps, which have to be cleaned out on a regular basis, down to the city’s Dillman road facility.

The preferred pumper program is meant to improve the consistency of the existing arrangement, which allows haulers who service the grease traps of restaurants covered by the FOG program to dispose of the grease at the Dillman Road wastewater treatment plant.

The preferred pumper program requires training, but at no cost. It’s believed that it will improve data reporting and allow CBU to monitor FOG program compliance better.

Council president Steve Volan prodded Kelson to give an example of what can happen if grease is not retained on the premises of a restaurant.

Kelson obliged by describing a restaurant that was downstream from a daycare facility. “About three or four years ago, we had a problem with a restaurant that did not have an interceptor, and it was a restaurant that made quite a lot of grease,” Kelson said. He continued, “And what happened is, the grease plugged up the sewer main and they actually had a backup into the daycare.” Kelson concluded, “We were able to clean it out. But that sort of thing is prevented when we have proper grease retention devices installed.”

The cost to install a larger, concrete grease retention device was pegged by CBU’s assistant director for environmental programs James Hall at $15,000 to $20,000. That’s more than the $12,000 to $15,000 than the new smaller, polymer type would cost, which is now allowed because of the city council’s change to local law. Hall added, “That depends on how much rock you potentially have to bust through.”

The city code requires any new restaurant, or one that undergoes renovation, to add a grease retention device. The cost can be a financial challenge to businesses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During public commentary on the FOG program, director of economic and sustainable development for the city, Alex Crowley, described how a restaurant that had received a loan through the city’s COVID-19 relief program spent half of its startup loan on the FOG program. That cost could have been mitigated, Crowley said, if the changes to the FOG program had already been enacted.

From Crowley’s department, the city council at its Wednesday meeting also got an update on the status of city’s COVID-19 loan program. It’s funded through food and beverage tax revenue and money from the BUEA (Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association).

Councilmembers were briefed by Jane Kupersmith, who’s the city’s assistant director for small business development in the economic and sustainable development department.

So far, $1,466,600 in food and beverage tax money has been lent out, combined with $294,170 in BUEA money for a total of $1,760,770.

The takeaway from Kupersmith’s presentation was that the loan program is still accepting applications. About $500,000 is left in food and beverage funds from the $2 million appropriation that was approved by the Bloomington city council earlier this summer.

The deadline for a loan application is currently Dec. 1, which is tied to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s emergency order on the COVID-19 pandemic. That deadline could be extended again.

City of Bloomington Loan Program (as of Oct. 26, 2020)

Borrower FAB BUEA SUM of Total
WonderLab $50,000 $50,000
Vibe Yoga $50,000 $50,000
Vanished Aesthetics
$50,000 $50,000
Uptown Cafe $50,000 $50,000
Unveiled $50,000 $50,000
Trojan Horse $50,000 $50,000
Tonya’s Touch $50,000 $50,000
The Atlas Ballroom $50,000 $50,000
That’s the Rub $50,000 $50,000
Switchyard Brewing $50,000 $50,000
Soapy Soap $50,000 $50,000
Nick’s English Hut INC $50,000 $50,000
My Sports Locker $50,000 $50,000
MJSB LLC. DBA: B-Town Diner $50,000 $50,000
Little Tibet $50,000 $50,000
FARM Bloomington $50,000 $50,000
Cardinal Stage Company $50,000 $50,000
Bluebird $50,000 $50,000
Blockhouse Media $50,000 $50,000
Baked of Bloomington $50,000 $50,000
Back Door Bloomington LLC DBA The Back Door $50,000 $50,000
Samira $40,000 $40,000
Qaisir Oriental Rugs $40,000 $40,000
Penguin Enterprises LLC dba The Chocolate Moose $40,000 $40,000
Cup & Kettle Tea $35,000 $35,000
PopKorn Kernals With A Twist $30,000 $30,000
UnderConsideration $25,000 $25,000
PALS $25,000 $25,000
Big Time Trading
$25,000 $25,000
Big Brothers Big Sisters
$25,000 $25,000
BBQSoul $25,000 $25,000
The Art Venue $22,000 $22,000
KC Designs $20,000 $20,000
Bloomington Playwrights Project $20,000 $20,000
Bloomington Massage & Bodyworks
$20,000 $20,000
Spiral Bodies $19,000 $19,000
Gather $18,000 $18,000
DK Sweets $18,000 $18,000
Lotus Pilates $16,500 $16,500
Hoosier Barbershop $16,000 $16,000
Dat’s Cajun Food & Btown Gyros $16,000 $16,000
The Ritz Hair Studio $15,000 $15,000
Razor’s Image $15,000 $15,000
K&P Global DBA O’Child Children Boutique $15,000 $15,000
inBloom Eats & Juice $15,000 $15,000
By Hand Gallery $15,000 $15,000
Btown Beauty Supply and Salon
$15,000 $15,000
Bloomingtea $15,000 $15,000
Cherry Canary Vintage $12,500 $12,500
Red Tire Taxi $12,000 $12,000
Wild Orchid Fitness & Dance $10,000 $10,000
Landlocked Music $10,000 $10,000
Bloomington Salt Cave $10,000 $10,000
Bloomington Pets Alive
$10,000 $10,000
Gaian Hands $7,000 $7,000
Fraternal Order of Eagles $7,000 $7,000
Bloomington Stitchery $7,000 $7,000
Balance Lifestyle Services
$6,000 $6,000
Lash Envy $5,170 $5,170
Sew Secret Tailoring
$5,000 $5,000
Midway Music $5,000 $5,000
A.E.A Design & Apparel $3,600 $3,600
Grand Total $1,466,600 $294,170 $1,760,770