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OPINION - Leave this man alone

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  The City of Wausau is fining the owner of a hot food cart $186 for dumping wastewater down a sewer near the 400 Block.

This is ridiculous. The complaint comes from Ken Krueger, the Operations Director for Wausau and Marathon County parks. Krieger says he saw J.W. Van Wagner, who owns the Yo Chubby Gringo food cart, dumping something into the storm drain. There’s some question about what that something was. The complaint says vegetable and food scraps and water. But Van Wagner says that can’t be right. He doesn’t have vegetables on his cart.

It’s likely he was discarding the water that’s heated inside the food cart to keep food hot.

City ordinance forbids dumping anything down a storm sewer because it empties into the Wisconsin River.

But, beware of the law that is applied without common sense.

We are talking about a fine for dumping a tub or two of water, perhaps with small amounts of food scraps, into a drain. This isn’t the same as an auto-repair shop that’s dumping motor oil, or a factory that’s discharging industrial waste, or a retailer with a parking lot that has large amounts of run-off that goes into the storm drain when it rains. The city’s own actions cause far more run-off: just a month ago Wausau sent out workers to power-wash the sidewalks on the 400 block, washing away what remained of dozens of chalk drawings. Where do you suppose that water went?

Bill Duncanson, the parks director, told the Wausau Daily Herald that repeatedly dumping warm food waste into a cold sewer can cause a blockage over time. Really? How much waste? Over how long? Certainly not anything on the scale of a food cart.

For good measure, City Council President Lisa Rasmussen notes that Van Wagner often yells out “Yooooo Chubby Gringoooo!” during lunchtime to attract potential customers. That, apparently, violates the city’s poorly written food vendor ordinance. (I’ve blogged before that the ordinance   , which intentionally keeps food vendors far away from brick and mortar restaurants, won’t withstand a court challenge.) So the city is inept at stopping raucous all-night parties with loud music, but if a street vendor yells out – we’ll crack down right away.

Police chief Jeff Hardel advises not to renew this vendor’s license when it comes up for renewal next year.

Restaurant owners think street vendors steal their customers. These businesses have an “in” with city leaders and they want a crackdown. And they’re getting what they want. At least it’s pretty clear to me what’s happening here.

Chris Conley