By David F. Rooney
You could call it Eau de Sewer but to Southside residents the odours wafting through their neighbourhood this summer are no laughing matter; they’re an insufferable stink that they demand the City fix ASAP.
They are so upset that a dozen people went to the Engineering and Public Works Department yard on Victoria Road to complain in person.
“I’ve been in a lot of barnyards and nothing compares with the smell of human shit,” Jean Bensrud said at the meeting as she 12 other neighbourhood residents waited to talk with Mike Thomas, the City’s director of engineering and public works, and Darren Komonoski, the department’s operations manager.
“People talk about second-hand smoke,” said Deb Thibeault. “I’d rather smell second-hand smoke than smell what’s blowin’ in the wind. It’s disgusting.”
Those comments pretty much sum up what people from Oscar Street all the way to Ninth Street have to say about the odour coming from the municipal sewage-treatment plant on Power House Road. What ticks off some people even more than the stench itself is the fact that public complaints seem to be an annual occurrence dating back at least 15 years.
Mike Thomas, the City’s new director of Engineering and Public Works, said his people are trying to determine what, exactly, is causing the annual odoriferous assault on residents’ noses. It could be a die-off of bacteria in the sewage ponds caused by people dumping chemicals, bleaches and even grease down their toilets. It could also be a problem somewhere else in the treatment system.
While some people demanded that the City do something — anything, really — to stop the stink, no one has an appetite to just try things willy-nilly.
“The (sewage-treatment) process pretty much runs itself,” Thomas said. “It’s not like an air conditioner that you can turn on and off.”
Tests conducted last week may point Thomas and Darren Komonoski, operations manager for engineering and public works, in the right direction but the solution may not be as simple and direct as anyone wants.
He said a mechanical sewage treatment plant could be the best alternative to the system now in place but at a total cost of more than $30 million that’s not something the City can afford.
From Mayor Dave Raven’s perspective “it all comes down to money.”
The City would love to have a mechanical plant — it even discussed acquiring one about nine years ago when the city’s population was predicted to hit 16,000 after the resort was completed. But the resort hasn’t been the population-booster people hoped it would be (We actually have fewer people now than we did then.) and the cost of a mechanical plant was so prohibitive City Hall opted instead to make upgrades to the current system when and where it can.
With regard to this particular problem Raven said “what we’re trying to do right now is find the thing we need to fix.”
CAO Tim Palmer said city staff are trying to find the real source of the odour, which is hydrogen sulphide gas at a concentration of just 3 parts per million.
“We think the odour may be coming from the actual sewer system,” he said, but, naturally, that is not yet certain.
“If we could get everybody to pour a cup of bread yeast down their toilets we could probably solve the problem,” he said. “But there really needs to a longer-term solution.”
Most of the residents who attended the meetings with Public Works’ senior staff and with Raven and Palmer understand that the City is doing its best to solve the problem but, as resident Toria Long put it: “We want a solution preferably sooner rather than later.”