Wastewater woes chased Journeyman expansion across state line

THREE OAKS, Mich. (WNDU) - Journeyman Distillery isn’t packing up and leaving Three Oaks, but it isn’t expanding there either.

The company is poised to grow again, but this time it will be in Indiana.

Journeyman Distillery opened in October of 2011 in Three Oaks with just three employees.

Today, there are about 150 on the payroll, and the business is said to be on track to welcome 200,000 guests this year.

“We actually had purchased 50 acres to the west of our building here, with the idea of expanding. We had actually, in fact, hired an architect and paid him to start plans on expanding here in Three Oaks,” company founder Bill Welter said.

What the business didn’t plan on was a demand that it stop putting its mashlike distillery discharge into the fouled waste stabilization lagoons of the village.

“All we did was continue to grow our business, ask for approval to grow our business, and then later on found out that, in fact, the infrastructure that was represented wasn’t actually in place. And so, we were left kind of, in some ways, holding the bag,” Welter said.

The lagoons have since been dredged, and the Journeyman discharge has been on a journey of its own.

“Unfortunately for us, we've had to haul off our distillery discharge starting last summer,” Welter said. “We get the guys that come up three times a week, they're hauling off about 5,000 gallons per trip.”

The spent grain and water is taken to a plant in Plymouth, where it’s turned into electricity.

According to Welter, if the village of Three Oaks built a biodigester, “they could probably run the town on it.”

The sewage situation sent Journeyman’s expansion plans down the road and across the state line. The company plans to spend up to $15 million to locate in an abandoned wiper blade factory in downtown Valparaiso.

“But we're looking at some fun things there, like a boutique movie theater, a hotel, we would like to add a brewery to that location,” Welter said.

Journeyman remains committed to doing business in Three Oaks. Welter is waiting for the village to come up with new pretreatment rules for industrial waste.

“It seemed Three Oaks, we had outgrown the town, and Valpo was there, ready, willing and eager to have us be a part of what they’re doing there,” he said.