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By Mike McKibbin

One of the largest private employers in Wheat Ridge will get a partial rebate of city use tax the company paid related to a planned four-phase renovation and expansion project.

The Rocky Mountain Bottle Co. submitted a request to participate in the city’s business development zone program. The company paid $1.05 million in city use tax associated with the first phase of a possible $120 million renovation project at their plant, 10619 W. 50th Ave. in Wheat Ridge. City staff recommended a 25 percent rebate, or approximately $262,500, and that council agree to future rebate amounts through 2021, when the full project is scheduled to end. City council consensus at a Dec. 17 study session was to grant the request.

Existing Wheat Ridge companies and companies relocating to the city can ask to be included in the program for a partial rebate of use tax and other fees paid for new construction or redevelopment. The program allows a maximum rebate of 75 percent of use tax on building materials, furniture and fixtures associated with the development, building permit fees and zoning fees.

According to the council agenda packet, the project will replace two of the company’s three furnaces with one larger furnace that uses cleaner-burning oxy-fuel technology to lower emissions and increase energy efficiency.

A second phase under consideration for later this year would expand plant capacity and a third phase slated for 2020 would add new technology for production monitoring and quality inspections. A fourth phase would include rebuilding the third furnace in 2021.

“Part of this request will help us remain competitive and continue in the years to come,” plant manager William Dillaman told the council.

City Manager Patrick Goff said if the company does spend around $120 million on the four-phase project, they would receive a total rebate of around $630,000.

EPA settlement that calls for plant improvements not mentioned at council meeting

The project will also meet the terms of a 2017 settlement Rocky Mountain Bottle Co. reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over a furnace expansion project in the late 1990s. It was done without obtaining permits or installing required pollution control equipment and resulted in significantly increased emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

Nitrogen oxides (NOx) can cause or contribute to health problems and adverse environmental impacts, such as ground-level ozone, acid rain, global warming, water quality deterioration and visual impairment, according to the EPA. Children and people with lung diseases such as asthma are most affected, along with possible lung tissue damage for people who work or exercise outside.

High concentrations of sulfur dioxide (SO2) can affect breathing and may aggravate existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease, especially among asthmatics, those with bronchitis or emphysema, children and the elderly. SO2 is also a primary contributor to acid deposition or acid rain.

The EPA also alleged the company violated part of the Clean Air Act by failing to submit a complete permit application. The company agreed to pay a $475,000 civil penalty, split between the federal and state governments.

The settlement required the company to install new controls to reduce NOx and SO2 emissions by the end of March 2019 and to monitor for emissions every hour.

The settlement noted the company will convert two of its three furnaces to one oxy-fuel furnace, as outlined to city council. Such furnaces mix pure oxygen — produced at Rocky Mountain Bottle Co.’s site — with natural gas to increase efficiency and reduce emissions. The third furnace already uses oxy-fuel combustion and the new furnace will reduce NOx emissions by approximately 60 percent. The company must route all emissions through a continuously operating scrubber system to reduce SO2 emissions by about the same amount. The EPA estimated the new equipment will result in a 200 tons-per-year reduction in NOx emissions and 150 tons-per-year reduction in SO2 emissions.

The settlement was not referenced in the council packet nor mentioned during the council study session. Mayor Bud Starker said he was unaware of the settlement when asked in an interview.

“It might have been a useful piece of information,” Starker said. “But I’m not sure what obligation city staff has to ferret out every bit of information there is about everything.”

Starker added he was unsure knowledge of the settlement would have made a difference in the council’s consensus to move forward with the rebate request.

In an interview, Dillaman said the settlement was not included in the company’s presentation on the advice of a consultant who helps companies identify and obtain government rebate programs, Duff & Phelps.

“The advice was that it wasn’t pertinent to the discussion about use tax and rebates,” he added. “But we think it is the correct thing to do to meet the requirements in the settlement as we move forward with this project.”

Company could add more workers

The council packet noted Rocky Mountain Bottle is a glass container manufacturing joint venture between Owens-Illinois Inc. and MillerCoors. The company began as the Columbine Glass Co. in 1970. The approximately 400,000-square-foot plant is on 17.5 acres and includes a recycling facility that processes recycled glass for its bottles. The plant makes six bottle types and about 3.5 million bottles per day for over 30 varieties of beer. Bottles are shipped primarily to MillerCoors breweries in California, Colorado, Texas and Wisconsin.

The packet called the company one of the largest private employers in Wheat Ridge, with 226 full-time permanent employees. Total annual payroll exceeds $23 million, with average annual wages of about $100,000, well above the Jefferson County average wage of $57,824. Between 15-18 new full-time permanent jobs could be created at the facility by the end of 2019.

In addition, a significant amount of local labor among approximately 180 contractors will likely complete the project. That could include local millwrights, masons, electricians and other skilled labor. Local labor project costs could be in the range of $15 million to $17 million.