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BRILLION NEWS CLARIFICATION: Sargento, Hilbert say water quality is not an issue

Posted at 3:30 p.m. on February 9, 2022

By Ed Byrne

The Brillion News

HILBERT – Both Sargento Foods and the Village of Hilbert asked for a correction or clarification of a February 3 Brillion News story about a project to invest in improvements at Village of Hilbert Well No. 4 that would result in improved aesthetics in water from the well.

The project was shelved when the only bid came in well over the amount of money budgeted for the work.

The issue came up at a January 24 meeting of the village board’s Water and Sewer Committee, which had to deal with the project’s unexpected cost increases – costs that the village could not afford.

Both Sargento and the village’s Director of Public Works, Kim Plate, said the two have a great relationship.

Portia Young, who handles public relations for Sargento, wrote: “Sargento is proud to keep expanding in the Village of Hilbert, which has been a great partner in our growth through innovation. Village infrastructure improvements have not been part of any recent business or staffing decisions. We look forward to continued economic growth in this vital community, with our neighbors in Hilbert who we consider to be important stakeholders of our company.”

Plate said he felt that the article needed to clarify the positive relationship the village and Sargento have with one another.


The whole issue came up because the village had solicited bids on a project to improve filtration at its Well No. 4, “to reduce the amount of iron and biofilm that enters the [water] distribution system.”

The project proposed was a three-vessel filtration system with tri-media.

The village’s engineering consultants, Robert E. Lee & Associates (REL), estimated the cost of the project at $464,450.

But when the bids came in, two of three contractors expected to bid had dropped out and only one bid was received, from August Winter & Sons of Appleton, for $696,300.

That number was more than the village could afford without raising rates for the second time in less than a year.

Those project realities led to the Water and Sewer Committee agenda including “Discussion and possible action regarding the Well #4 Filter Project and how to proceed after rejecting bids.”

The committee, after considerable discussion, rejected the bid and set the project aside, placing it on hold.

REL engineer Joshua Steffeck said that there were concerns about iron deposits discovered in the village’s water tower.

“When we went to drain it, it was full of iron deposits,” Steffeck said.

A representative of Sargento Foods, Mike Petruska, was at the meeting but was silent on the topic.

In a February 4 email to the newspaper, Plate said that concerns about water quality were not an issue.

“[Water quality] could not be further from the truth,” Plate wrote. “In my discussions with my contacts at Sargento, it was stated that their reasons for discontinuing this [sauce] line were related to their production needs in other areas and not at all due to water quality. In fact, the Village has changed it’s [sic] practices on well maintenance over the past year and water quality has greatly improved.”


The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s white paper on biofilm defines it as “a complex mixture of microbes, organic and inorganic material accumulated amidst a microbially produced organic polymer matrix attached to the inner surface of the distribution system.” In other words, it is a film coating the inside of the pipes that distribute the water.

The complete EPA white paper, published 20 years ago, is available to read or download, at no cost, at

One of the effects of biofilm is aesthetic: “taste, color and odor problems” with the water. The EPA paper said there could also be problems with toxins associated with biofilm but there is no mention of that as a concern in Hilbert.

The project

The Well No. 4 Filter Project, though, was justified by concerns about aesthetic quality of water – something that has nothing to do with the safety or purity of the water.

Petruska was asked about the company’s concerns with the project being shelved for now.

“We still do have concerns with the water quality in our boilers and drinking systems,” he said. “We have provisions in place for now.”

Schmidt said he was concerned because the village wants to take care of the needs of businesses in the community.

“We will do it,” Trustee Tim Keuler said. “We just need to figure out where the money is coming from.”

Cost estimates

One reason for the committee’s concern was the bid received being more than $220,000 over the project cost originally estimated by Robert E. Lee & Associates (REL).

Reporter’s Note: The newspaper feels that both Sargento and Mr. Plate are correct in requesting an expansion of the story, as presented here, and clarification of the concerns. This clarification will also be published in our February 17 print edition.


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