A third of restaurants fail city’s sanitation test

Three in 10 of the city’s restaurants have failed Cortez Sanitation District grease trap inspections this year.

Due to a lack of resources, the last round of grease trap evaluations occurred more than five years ago, but sanitation officials re-launched those annual inspections this month.

“About a third of the food establishments we’ve checked over the past two weeks have failed the inspection,” said sanitation superintendent Phil Starks.

The Cortez Sanitation District (CSD) first enacted grease trap regulations in 1979, and the last update to the rules were passed in 1998. CSD policy requires all businesses that serve food to install and maintain proper grease traps.

“Any grease can clog a sewer line,” explained CSD manager Tim Krebs. “It can ultimately lead to health hazards when sewer lines overflow into someone’s home, and it causes us greater headaches here at the treatment plant.”

The last grease clogged sewer line occurred just last month. It took sanitation officials nearly three days and $5,500 to clear the line, Krebs said.

Starks is visiting each of the city’s 60 or so restaurants as a courtesy call to help educate restaurant owners on how to properly maintain grease traps.

“The first thing I tell them is that I’m not there to close them down or fine them, but instead to make them aware of the issues,” Starks said.

During his initial evaluations, Starks has already identified one locally owned restaurant that does not have a proper grease trap. A larger chain restaurant has also been instructed that its grease trap cannot be properly serviced.

“That’s the case with most businesses,” Starks said. “Perhaps due to lack of awareness, the grease traps aren’t being maintained.”

Starks said he is also informing owners that businesses are required to submit a report when grease traps are cleaned, including the volume of grease removed. Those reports help sanitation officials evaluate whether current grease traps are of adequate size to handle the load and how often the traps should be serviced, he added.

CSD guidelines stipulate that grease traps must be designed to contain less than 200 gallons of grease. In addition to restaurants and food establishments, automotive facilities where grease is used are also required to have grease traps.

Those found in violation of CSD grease trap protocols are subject to a $100 fine per violation. The last fine levied by CSD occurred in 2007, Starks said.

Krebs is hopeful to provide CSD board members with updated grease trap rules and regulations at their monthly meeting in March.

While individual homeowners are not required to have grease traps, Krebs encouraged residents to help by properly disposing of cooking grease, instead of pouring it down the drain.

Common sources for fats, oils and grease include fried foods; cooking meats; butter, ice cream and other dairy products; gravy and other sauces; along with mayonnaise and salad dressings.

Pouring hot water and detergent into the drain to dissolve oil or grease is a myth, Starks said. He said it simply pushes the grease deeper into the sewer line where it cools and coats the pipe.

Businesses or individuals with questions or concerns about grease disposal or clogs are encouraged to call Phil Starks at (970) 560-3962.

In other news, CSD officials at February’s monthly meeting approved a $41,705 low bid for engineering services on a proposed N. Broadway sewer line expansion project. The project is scheduled to replace approximately 3,500 linear feet of sewer line.

District officials also approved a $1,500 low bid to create a district website, which would contain board agendas and minutes, regulations and fee structures. The website, which officials hope to launch as soon as possible, will not allow customers to make online payments.