By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Krispy Kreme doughnuts are so popular that people sometimes camp out the night before a new store opens, eager to be one of the first to sample the famous original glazed rounds as they slide warm out of the fryer.
But something else sliding out of a Krispy Kreme doughnut plant in Lorton has been eating away at officials in Fairfax County.
The county has been embroiled in a years-long dispute with the legendary doughnutmaker that erupted this month into a full-blown legal battle. Fairfax officials have sued the Winston-Salem, N.C., company, saying waste emanating from the five-year-old factory has gummed up the county's sewage system, violating environmental laws and causing millions of dollars in damage.
The "excess fats, oils and grease" have built up in the system, destroying iron pipes, mechanical pumps and other equipment and caused leaks, according to court filings. The county is seeking $2 million for repairs and $18 million in civil penalties.
Brian Little, a spokesman for the company, said in a statement that the allegations are "totally unfounded." The company has been "over 99 percent compliant" with all permits and stopped discharging the doughnutmaking residue into county wastewater more than a year ago, he said.
"As a significant employer in Fairfax County for well over 30 years, we look forward to the opportunity to show that these charges are completely groundless," Little wrote in an e-mail.
But county officials say the problems, which began shortly after the plant opened in May 2004, continue. The muck got so bad, the county contends in the circuit court filings, that a nearby pumping station began smelling of doughnuts. County staff were called on repeatedly to clean out "doughnut grease and slime" from the station.
During a 2004 inspection of a pipe that crosses the Occoquan River into Prince William County, a camera inserted into one of the pipes "got stuck in the grease, preventing inspection of the remainder of the line," the documents say.
Then, in April of last year, the county issued a cease-and-desist order, asking that the company stop releasing its waste into the system and instead haul it to a treatment plant elsewhere. Since then, Krispy Kreme has been hauling an average of about 15,000 gallons of waste a day to a treatment plant nearby.
The factory sits in an office park, in an isolated industrial area in southern Fairfax County. Two workers in white Krispy Kreme uniforms and hairnets had a late lunch yesterday near a window. An unmistakable sugary aroma wafted from the truck bay area despite a heavy downpour.
County leaders declined to comment in detail because of the pending litigation, which was first reported by the Washington Examiner, but said efforts to work out their problems with Krispy Kreme over the years have failed. Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who represents the district where the plant is located, said that it is unusual for the county to take legal action against a large employer but that it had no other option.
"They've been absolutely wonderful neighbors over the years," Hyland said of the handful of Krispy Kreme shops around the area. "To have them not fix the problem they've created is a major disappointment for me for a major corporation. . . . I'm shocked that we're having to finally take the last step that we would want to take, and that is to bring a lawsuit against a business in Fairfax."
News of the suit, and its graphic descriptions of the corrosive damage to iron pipes, led to inevitable questions yesterday about the impact the doughnuts have had on human arteries. Little, the Krispy Kreme spokesman, did not care to engage on that subject.
County leaders said the legal action is not personal. Hyland said his late wife, Carmen, used to adore Krispy Kreme doughnuts from the popular 24-hour shop not far from their home. "If Carmen and I were driving by and the 'hot doughnuts' sign was on, we couldn't help but stop," he recalled.
But for his part, he said, "I prefer Dunkin' Donuts."
Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.