UNION CITY, CALIF. — Emerald Packaging Inc. began operating its newly installed regenerative thermal oxidizer in January.
That's a year later than the film converter and printer expected.
"It took over a year to get a permit from Union City," Kevin Kelly, Emerald chief executive officer, said in an office interview in Union City.
Emerald invested about $750,000 for the equipment, installation and — unexpectedly and unbudgeted — environmental consulting services. Kelly had budgeted about $500,000.
An incinerator from Ship & Shore Environmental Inc. of Long Beach, Calif., enables Emerald to use solvent-based inks in printing glossy plastic retail bags that its customers seek.
Emerald has used water-based inks since 1992 but found the market that was demanding high-quality graphics was achievable only by using solvent-based inks.
Ship & Shore finished fabricating the oxidizer by November 1999, but Emerald needed until November 2000 to overcome several bureaucratic hurdles and obtain a municipal permit.
Regulators at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District took only six weeks to issue a permit for the incinerator and inks, but Union City was concerned about having solvents in the building, he said.
Kelly said Union City wanted unworkable limits on ink quantity in a room, explosion-proof walls around the printing presses, upgraded wiring on each press and vents in the ceiling.
"We were talking about $500,000 worth of work, so we spent a year fighting them," Kelly said. "They were asking us to do things that no one else was asked to do."
A city spokesman disputed the characterization that they were unreasonable.
"The city was responsive and as helpful as possible in getting this job done in a timely basis," said Roberto Munoz, community relations coordinator for Union City.
In dealing with a permit involving hazardous material, it is not unusual to go through two, three or four plan reviews, Munoz said. Emerald filed plans in February, July and September.
"Any delays that were caused were attributed to Emerald Packaging," Munoz said. "Mr. Kelly readily admits that."
To accommodate the city, Emerald will change wiring on the two oldest presses to explosion-proof standards in coming months.
The natural-gas-fired oxidizer destroys volatile organic compounds, in the process creating its own energy. Initially, the incinerator will capture emissions from three of Emerald's five presses.
A gradual transition will allow Emerald to work down its $70,000 inventory of water-based inks, train operators and modify cylinders.
Kelly sees productivity climbing. In trials using polyethylene film, Emerald ran faster-drying, solvent-based inks at 1,400 pounds per hour vs. water-based inks at 800 pounds an hour.
Family-run Emerald employs 115, up from 101 a year earlier, and recorded sales of $22 million for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, about 10 percent higher than fiscal 1999. Kelly forecasts another 10 percent increase this year.