Commonwealth Dairy

Commonwealth Dairy at 66 Paul Road in Brattleboro.

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BRATTLEBORO — A new wastewater treatment project at Commonwealth Dairy will meet several objectives.

“It’s to fulfill our obligations to the state and the town to be more compliant with the wastewater that we release, and we’re sizing it in such a way that it will allow us to grow the business in a much more environmentally friendly way,” said Sam Garland, director of facilities and project management at Commonwealth Dairy.

On Wednesday, the Brattleboro Development Review Board provided site plan and local Act 250 approval to construct a moving bed biofilm reactor and suspended air flotation system to pretreat wastewater at Commonwealth’s facility at 66 Paul Road. The state also will need to sign off as part of its Act 250 review and permitting for wetlands and wastewater.

Serenity Wolf of Stevens & Associates said the project will provide additional biological treatment coming out of the yogurt manufacturing facility before being discharged back into the municipal wastewater system.

“This additional treatment has been asked for by the state of Vermont and it’s part of an agreement with the town to reduce the BOD loading from the facility to the municipal wastewater treatment plant,” she said.

BOD stands for biological oxygen demand and “generally represents how much oxygen is needed to break down organic matter in water,” according to usgs.gov. Wolf noted a significant amount of oxygen is needed to decompose milk or any of the other organic compounds in the wastewater.

Commonwealth Dairy is struggling to maintain permit limits for discharge, Wolf said.

“This is additional treatment that will help rectify and significantly reduce the BOD because there will be a different wastewater system that will allow them to increase their production while decreasing their BOD to the town,” she said. “So there will be more volume granted from the town with less BOD in it. So the strength is significantly reduced.”

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Garland said sludge is trucked away about every other day and he doesn’t expect the frequency to change. There could be more sludge, he said, but it still would not take up an entire truck load.

Last year, the state of Vermont fined Commonwealth Dairy $25,000 for wastewater pretreatment discharge permit violations. According to information from the Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation, DEC personnel visited the yogurt plant in 2017 and 2018 and observed a number of violations, including improper operation and maintenance, and reporting and training inadequacies. Additional violations occurred in 2019 and 2020, according to a notice from the state.

Commonwealth Dairy was founded in 2009 by partners Tom Moffitt and Benjamin Johnson, along with German dairy giant Ehrmann AG. Using milk from Vermont cows, Commonwealth packaged yogurt for third-party sale and also designed its own line through the Green Mountain Creamery, including a line of Greek yogurt and Yo Yummy pouches for kids.

In 2019, Commonwealth Dairy was purchased by Lactalis, the world’s biggest dairy company, located in France, which also bought Stonyfield Yogurt in 2017.

In addition to paying the fine, Commonwealth also agreed to retaining an engineer and wastewater consultant to evaluate the facility and provide a plan to DEC to bring the facility into compliance. The facility’s permit limits the volume and quality of wastewater discharged to the Brattleboro collection system to protect the wastewater treatment facility and insure the discharge into the Connecticut River meets environmental standards.

At the time of the violations, now-retired Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett said they did not affect the town’s discharger parameters.

“Commonwealth has been working with the town and the state to adhere to the permit requirements,” he had said.

According to information from DEC, discharge permits are designed to ensure municipal wastewater treatment facilities can safely handle and treat wastewater, prevent interference with municipal operations, and prevent toxic pollutants from flowing into lakes, rivers, and streams.