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Michigan village, distillery agree to work on wastewater problem



THREE OAKS, Mich. — Officials in a small agritourism community threatening to break up a distillery are shaking hands now with the whiskey maker.

Journeyman Distillery, under a June 13 agreement with the village of Three Oaks, has two weeks to make arrangements for hauling away its wastewater for treatment. If that’s accomplished, the distillery can operate for another 90 days.

Officials during that period will consider the possibility of upgrading the village treatment plant, which is not capable right now of adequately handling the powerful wastewater from the manufacture of spirits. Village Manager Mike Greene said upgrades might cost several million dollars, but the distillery – with its restaurant and events center – means too much to the local economy to not try to work things out.

Short-term options for the distillery include trucking its wastewater 20 miles or so to a community with a better-equipped treatment plant, he said.

Treatment plant upgrades is what Journeyman owner Bill Welter has pushed for since receiving a cease-and-desist order. Had he known the waste was going to be an issue, he said he would have looked elsewhere to set up his business prior to opening here in 2010.

Greene said the alcohol-smelling wastewater kills some of the bacteria-eating microorganisms used in the cleansing process, by reducing oxygen levels in holding tanks. The result has been treated water with bacteria counts above what’s allowed by the state when released into Deer Creek.

He said no fines have been issued yet and he hopes working toward a solution will help to avoid a penalty. “We will wait and see on that,” he added.