By Ross Courtney, April 28, 2014, Yakima Herald-Republic
Forty years ago, the Port of Sunnyside opened an industrial wastewater treatment plant for its first client.
This week, the port will break ground on a $7.3 million anaerobic digester that will boost by one-third the capacity of the facility south of Sunnyside, making more room to treat the sluicey runoff of the city’s food processors.
“We’re growing; at the same time they are, too,” said Jay Hester, executive director of the Port of Sunnyside.
The port’s work is directly related to a major expansion of the Darigold milk processing plant, but also will make room for a rapidly growing fruit processing industry. All told, four Sunnyside companies are expanding for a collective investment of more than $85 million.
The biggest capital investment comes from Darigold, which has started construction on 48,000 square feet of new production, receiving, packing and storage facilities at its Alexander Road plant worth in excess of $60 million, said Clay Powell, eastern division operations manager for the Seattle-based cooperative.
The plant will produce milk powder to keep up with increasing worldwide demand, as well as make room to handle 8.5 million gallons of raw milk, up from the current capacity of 5 million, Powell said.
“We will be able to keep Eastern Washington milk in Sunnyside,” Powell said.
Currently, Darigold must ship some of its raw milk to processing facilities in Lynden and Idaho.
Darigold is expected to add 25 new jobs with the expansion, and retain its current workforce of 137 workers at the Sunnyside facility.
The first phase of the two-phase project, permitted at a value of $5.2 million, will add 11,000 square feet and two receiving bays for a total of five. It will be done by sometime in the fall, Powell said.
The total project is scheduled for completion in summer 2015.
Darigold couldn’t grow if the port didn’t boost its wastewater capacity, Powell said. The existing Sunnyside plant, which produces cheese and whey powder for baking, already discharges as much as 90 percent of the runoff allowed by its state permit.
To handle the extra water, contaminated by milk fats and the solutions used by Darigold employees to disinfect equipment, the port will build an anaerobic digester, a sealed lagoon that uses microbes to break down cellular material without air.
The improvements, scheduled to be done by Dec. 31, are funded by a combination of port funds, grants and loans.
The new digester will specifically treat Darigold waste, but the improvements also will boost the capacity of the plant overall from 1.45 million gallons per day to 2 million gallons per day, freeing up more room for future growth of the city’s fruit and vegetable processors, Hester said.
Some of those are expanding, too:
• Marion, N.Y., processor Seneca Foods has started construction on a 224,000-square-foot canned food warehouse valued at $22 million on South Hill Road near Exit 67 off Interstate 82, all but next door to the company’s existing 258,000-square-foot processing plant, where it processes apples, pears and cherries.
• Wholesale juice manufacturer Valley Processing is building a 65,000-square-foot freezer for finished purees and concentrates. The company hopes to be completed with the improvements, worth about $3.9 million, in June, said Mary Ann Bliesner, president.
• Johnson Foods, which processes and freezes cherries and asparagus, is just a few weeks away from completing a new 29,000-square-foot freezer building for zero-degree storage worth about $1.8 million.
These developments won’t directly create more wastewater, but fruit product industry representatives said growth is on the way because shoppers are reaching for a widening array of juice-flavored yogurts, smoothies and purees. Both Valley and Johnson make, among other products, the fruit used in the flavoring for yogurts, which Americans are eating more of.
“There’s a good chance that when you have a cherry yogurt, those cherries came out of the Yakima Valley,” Johnson said.
After fruit and vegetables are pressed, chopped, cooked or otherwise processed at the Sunnyside plants, workers rinse away the residue of skins and fibers from equipment. All that water makes its way downstream to the tanks and settling lagoons at the Port’s treatment plant.
The facility discharges some into the Yakima River drainage and sprays the rest on the Port’s alfalfa fields.
The facility does not handle residential waste. All of that is sent to the city’s municipal sewage plant.
The port was founded in 1964 as a special taxing district to recruit industrial companies to the area and plans to mark its 50th anniversary on July 17 with a catered lunch and historical presentation.
In 1974, the port built the wastewater facility. In the 1990s, the port expanded its wastewater lines throughout town, and now serves all 11 food processing clients in Sunnyside.