Springfield’s Food Truck Park is Relieved, Won’t Close

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Mike Easley Twisted Mikes_1509104947331.jpg

Fans of British pasties, Navajo tacos and duck confit fries, you can relax. As it turns out, Springfield’s food truck park is not expected to close anytime soon.

But one food truck, Chef Baldee’s Pizza, has shut down for the winter and plans to relocate to Kansas City.

After almost two years of talks, the city of Springfield reached a compromise with the park’s landlord and its independent food trucks that will allow the trucks to comply with sanitary sewer regulations.

“Since that time the food truck vendors have expressed an interest to deal with the grease issue on an individual basis,” city Director of Building Services Chris Straw told the News-Leader in an email Thursday.

“We have been working with the individual food trucks directly to resolve the grease issue that each vendor creates.”

“Since the food truck park was originally established,” according to an internal city memo dated Oct. 10, the trucks had been illegally dumping greasy water directly into the city sewers.

When fats, oils and grease cool down and solidify, they can narrow sewer pipes in a manner similar to the way cholesterol can clog up blood vessels in the human body.

The issue has received global attention this fall as both Baltimore, Maryland and London, England have contended with massive “fatbergs,” each of which forced more than 1 million gallons of raw sewage out into the natural environment. 

City officials, unwilling to experience a fatberg on a Springfield scale, responded to an anonymous complaint about grease-dumping at SGF Mobile Food Park at 836 N. Glenstone Ave., just north of the intersection with Chestnut Expressway. 

Talks began with the park’s landlord, Ken Walker, in January 2016, but later reached an impasse when Walker balked at the city’s request that he comply with regulations by purchasing and installing a central grease interceptor at the park.

The $15,000 device would have handled grease from all of the trucks on the site.

“That’s not my problem,” Walker told the News-Leader Oct. 5. “I don’t generate the water. I provide a parking lot to set their truck on, electric service and some water, but I don’t provide nor am I obligated to provide water disposal.”

Now, each individual food truck will be expected to outfit itself with its own grease interceptor, Walker and two truck owners told the News-Leader on Thursday – “which is what I have been advocating for 18 months,” Walker said.

Neil Gomme, a co-owner of British-themed food truck London Calling, said city officials had been “excellent” in resolving the situation.

“Everything is looking good to be all compliant and operational,” he said.

Gomme’s neighbor, Twisted Mike’s food truck owner Mike Easley, concurred.

“Oh, everything is doing good,” Easley said. “All the trucks are putting in grease interceptors.”

Along with the grease interceptors, an RV dump station will be installed, which landlord Walker said would be paid for by the food trucks. A dump station allows separated (i.e., non-greasy) water to be safely emptied into the sewer system.

“It’s a lid you can’t leave open,” Walker said. “It keeps rainwater out of the sanitary sewer.”

Gomme, with London Calling, said adding the new equipment would cost each truck $700 to $800.

Walker said that should the food truck park real estate ever be sold, the trucks would receive a “90-day window” to give them enough time to relocate, rather than just a few weeks.

The 18-month dispute largely centered on who was responsible for getting the grease out safely.

The food trucks rent space on North Glenstone Avenue from Walker’s firm, KenMoore Marketing LLC.

KenMoore Marketing leases that space from Transport Graphics, a company located immediately north of the food-truck park – which formerly employed Walker.

Linda Walker, who is divorced from Ken Walker, is the owner of Transport Graphics.

The land on which the food trucks and Transport Graphics stand is owned by HP Montgomery Trust.

A chain of lease agreements ties each business entity to the next, with provisions in the agreements requiring the food trucks, KenMoore Marketing and Transport Graphics to comply with applicable local, state and federal laws, said Walker and an attorney representing Transport Graphics.

Earlier this month, the trucks feared they would have to relocate after they received a notice from a Transport Graphics official indicating that they had to leave the property by Oct. 31.

Robert Stillings, an attorney representing Transport Graphics, told the News-Leader that the company owner was merely caught in the middle between the trucks, her ex-husband and city regulators.

“The basic issue is this,” Stillings told the News-Leader in a recent interview. “(Transport Graphics) doesn’t mind if the food court is there. It’s fine that they’re there. We just don’t want to get fined by the city.”

In an interview with the News-Leader earlier this month, city officials said it was unclear which entity could have been subject to enforcement action over the illegal grease-dumping.

“That’s a frequent situation,” Deputy City Manager Tim Smith said. “There’s all kinds of relationships there that we’re not privy to. It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Smith said typically the city would engage in a title search to determine who exactly should be on the receiving end of enforcement action.

In the wake of the dispute, the owner of one food truck – Chef Baldee’s Pizza – announced that he would be leaving Springfield entirely.

“I’ve shut the truck down for the winter,” said a status posted to Chuck Baldee’s Facebook account Monday. “This is the official announcement to my friends I will be relocating to Kansas City (effective immediately).”

Baldee previously said city officials treated the food trucks unfairly.

“I’m having a heart attack because the city is making my food truck out to be a villain of unclean water,” Baldee told the News-Leader Oct. 5, “and that’s just not the case.”

On Oct. 16, according to public documents, Baldee doubled down by accusing the city of a “CLEAR EPA violation” in an email to City Council.

He said that a city truck was “driving down the road spewing RAW SEWAGE” onto Baldee’s nearby vehicle.

In response, city spokeswoman Cora Scott sent an emailed statement to City Council on behalf of the city’s Department of Environmental Services in which she wrote that Baldee’s comments “were factually incorrect.”

The truck Baldee saw was a “hydro jetting flusher truck,” Scott wrote, adding that this type of truck carries 1,000 gallons of fresh water, but no sewage.

She conceded that the truck does have “a small leak.”

“Its replacement is on order,” she told council in the email, which was approved by City Manager Greg Burris.

(Story shared by the Springfield News-Leader.  Read the original article here)

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