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Thurmont combats sewer grease

Jeremy Hauck
The Gazette

(2/22) Thurmont’s town government is toughening its stance on how restaurants dispose of grease, according to Gary Dingle, head of the town’s water and sewer plant.

Town commissioners adopted a stricter sewer ordinance in September that enables officials to fine restaurants $250 per day for violating sewer system regulations, Dingle said.

‘‘We had some problem areas," he said, adding that grease from restaurants caused sewer system backups. ‘‘It’s happened several times."

One of those ‘‘problem areas" may have been the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant, as owner Mearl McLeas explained Friday.

Before the ordinance took effect, McLeas and the restaurant ‘‘spent a lot of money getting ready for it," he said, which meant cleaning up the grease trap and installing a new pipe running from the pipe to the sewer.

Though he wouldn’t disclose the costs of the upgrades, McLeas said that they were expensive and necessary. He added that Mountain Gate began running into problems with grease clogging up the pipes when the restaurant’s preferred method for disposing of it went out of fashion.

‘‘Years ago, we had a chemical that we would put down the drains and sinks every so often, [and] it would solve our problems," he said.

Mike Marschner, director of Frederick County’s division of utilities and solid waste management, said that such chemicals aren’t illegal, but frowned upon because of their ineffectiveness.

‘‘These chemicals sort of come and go," Marschner said. ‘‘The best solution is simply to pump your grease traps on a regular basis."

When restaurants violated Thurmont’s regulations on grease disposal in the past, ‘‘we talked to them," Dingle said. ‘‘[The municipal code] didn’t give us the power to do much."

The amended code allows the town to ‘‘suspend or cut off the sewage works connection and sewage permit of any user" that violates regulations, in addition to issuing warnings and fines.

‘‘They had to [use grease traps before the new ordinance was passed], but we made the regulations a little stricter," Dingle said. ‘‘They weren’t getting [the traps] pumped often enough."

Restaurants have to pay a ‘‘licensed waste hauler" to regularly empty grease traps, according to the code.

According to the Thurmont Economic Development Committee business directory, there are 19 restaurants in Thurmont, nine of which are fast-food chains.

Dingle said it’s going to ‘‘take a while" to implement the ordinance. The first step involves issuing permits to restaurants.

He and his staff are going to map the information they get from the restaurants, including the number of customers, the type of food prepared and the location of the discharges. Then they will begin taking random samples to ensure that restaurants aren’t allowing their grease traps to overflow.

The ordinance does not apply to residents. Dingle said that residential grease dumping is not a problem.

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