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Toasty Beaver’s faces grease cleanup costs: No penalties assessed in matter

BEMIDJI — The city of Bemidji says the significant amount of grease cleaned out of its stormwater system last month was the result of it being illegally dumped there by Toasty Beaver’s Sports Bar and Grill.

But the attorney for the bar, located at 114 Third Street Northwest, said any grease that ended up in the system was not put there intentionally, despite eyewitness accounts alleging otherwise. However, the bar plans on paying for the cleanup.

“I think that’s something that we want to take up with the city, that if the grease did get there from Toasty Beaver’s, it was not intentional in any way, shape or form,” said Ross Hussey, a Minneapolis-based attorney representing Toasty Beaver’s in the matter, in a phone interview Tuesday.

Those allegations were scheduled to be the subject of an administrative hearing this morning at City Hall, but Hussey said later Tuesday the hearing was cancelled and Toasty Beaver’s will take responsibility for the grease being in the system and the cleanup costs. He maintained, however, that there was no intentional dumping of grease down stormwater drains.

The bar, owned by David Knapp and managed by his son, Gerald Knapp, has not been issued any penalties. Hussey said it’s unknown how much the cleanup will cost.

“We’re working diligently with the city right now to see if we can amicably resolve all of this,” Hussey said. He added he preferred to speak for the business on the issue.

The saga began April 8 when employees from Lloyd’s Furniture asked the city’s street department if they could unplug the catch basin in the alley behind their neighbor Toasty Beaver’s, as water had begun to pool near the furniture store’s loading dock.

When city street employees arrived the next day, they found ice blocking the gate. But they also discovered “evidence of grease and other pollutants in the catch basin,” according to a memo from street superintendent David Hansen, dated April 30, that was provid-ed to The Bemidji Pioneer by city staff.

Lloyd’s Furniture employees then told the street department that “they were surprised that anything would drain because they had witnessed employees of Toasty Beaver dumping grease” and mop water in the catch basin, according to the memo.

Hansen went to the alley behind the bar and discovered containers of grease with lids ajar, and several five-gallon pails “filled with grease and topped with melting water and running over the lip and edges of each container.” The grease appeared to be in the containers for “quite some time,” Hansen wrote in the memo.

Hansen notified the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Hussey said bar management had tried to get rid of the outdated grease barrels for some time, but no company would take them. Hussey said the damaged barrels may have been leaking into the drain as a result of heavy snowfall.

On April 11, Hansen sent a notice of violation letter to David Knapp. That letter, also provided to the Pioneer by city staff, states that “after thorough inspections by city of Bemidji staff and other residents witnessing the Toasty Beavers’ staff pouring pollutants into the storm sewer, it has been determined that there is grease and pollutants throughout the highlighted system, shown on the enclosed map, and you are responsible for cleaning the entire highlighted areas.”

The next day, Hansen authorized Bemidji Industrial Services (BIS) to install oil contaminants booms on the stormwater line, according to the memo.

On April 16, Hansen received notice that Toasty Beaver’s had received a quote from Beltrami Industrial Services for $22,400 for the cleanup, and they would start as soon as possible.

But the next day, April 17, Hansen was notified BIS was retracting its quote because “they (Toasty Beaver’s) had asked him to raise quote price $2,500 to cover deductible on insurance policy,” according to the memo.

“That allegation is completely false,” Hussey said.

A letter from city attorney Al Felix dated April 17 addressed toboth David and Gerald Knapp stated the city planned to take action to clean up the pollutants if the bar did not do so first. It stated the city’s cost of the cleanup will be billed to Toasty Beaver’s.

“Furthermore, be advised that the illegal grease disposal activity is likely to result in the city considering action against the res-taurant business on-sale liquor license, including possible suspension and/or revocation of that license,” Felix wrote. Felix did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Hansen set up a contract with Veit and ITS Inc. for cleanup on behalf of the city on April 18. On April 22, Veit began draining water and grease from the interceptor tank, an underground stormwater treatment structure, and jetted all the lines from Toasty Beaver’s to Lake Bemidji, according to Hansen’s memo.

Hansen said Tuesday the cleanup process was finished, and he has no indication that grease ended up in Lake Bemidji.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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