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Salt poses obstacle for 140 jobs
Manteca, cheese plant owners exploring solutions
If salt issues can be addressed this North Airport Way cheese plant could create 140 jobs. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Salt - or more precisely how to remove it from wastewater from the cheese making process - is the major obstacle preventing the creation of 140 head-of-household jobs in Manteca.

City officials are continuing their efforts to work with California Specialty Cheese to restart cheese production at their Airport Way facility just north of Lathrop Road and west of Del Webb at Woodbridge. The firm has a cheese cutting and repackaging operation at the facility that employs about a dozen people. Returning it to cheese production would add 140 jobs of which most would qualify as head-of-household employment.

Salt issues from the cheese making process are suspected of being the major culprit that has rendered water wells around the Hilmar Cheese factory in Merced County unsafe for human consumption or even irrigating crops due to excessive salt leeching into aquifers.

Cheese is packed in salt during the curing process. The salt ends up in wastewater.

Sending the wastewater to the city’s treatment plant could easily force Manteca out-of-compliance with state regulations tightly controlling treated wastewater that is returned to the San Joaquin River.  Land disposal could eventually contaminate ground water that is used by nearby rural residential properties for domestic consumption and farm irrigation. It could also taint city water that is pumped from underground sources and mixed with surface treated water.

Manteca is working with the company to see if technology developed in Wisconsin involving new reverse osmosis techniques to effectively address salt concerns in that state can work in California. They are also carefully examining steps Hilmar Cheese has taken since 2005 when state ordered studies showed the cheese factory that employs 780 people was the source of salt contamination in 18 of 100 wells with 1.5 miles of the plant.

The firm would also have to meet new state standards for odor control and suppression.

The international food corporation that bought the cheese factory is interested in supplying cheese and baby formula to the growing Asian market. It would create a demand for 36 tanker trucks of milk a day. That’s the equivalent of 216,000 gallons of milk.