SNOW HILL – A noxious odor from the Mystic Harbor wastewater treatment plant has neighbors so fed up they sent a petition for relief to Worcester County, resulting in some help, albeit in the short term.
It can’t be soon enough for petition initiator Frank Foley and the other residents of Coastal Dr. and Fisherman’s Rd. Foley said the odor has gotten to the point nearby residents cannot enjoy their homes.
“The county has been forcing us to live with it for 10 years. That’s nine years too long,” Foley said. “This past summer was beyond anybody’s tolerance level. I don’t want to see another one next year.”
Coastal Dr. resident Joanne Welling said the odor is not only problem outside the house but also inside.
“It gets bad enough you can smell it in the house. The odor has been here the 11 years I’ve been here,” said Welling.
Foley said he has called so often to complain that county staffers know his voice on the telephone.
“The calls weren’t working so we got the petition together,” Foley said.
According to Foley, 20 people signed the document.
The petition was submitted to the County Commissioners in mid-September and staff made a report to the commissioners this week.
“We’ve had our operators investigate the situation,” said Worcester County Public Works Director John Tustin. “We are moving forward on the odor issues.”
Sludge drying beds and sand filters are the dual culprits, operators concluded.
“The odor we have been experiencing off and on for years comes from the drain fields out back,” Foley said.
Odor emanates from the sludge beds when the sludge is removed or mixed to promote drying. This work is undertaken only rarely, and attempts are made to minimize the odor, according to Tustin, although it cannot be eliminated entirely.
“It’s very earthy, more of a humus smell,” said Tustin.
Foley described the odor differently.
“It smells like a toilet that’s backed up,” Foley said. “A port-a-potty at Sunfest after it’s been sitting in the sun for two days and ripening, it smells like that.”
Patricia Foley added, “Windows can’t be opened. If it happens at dinner time, your dinner is ruined.”
Much of the objectionable scent issues from sand filters, which are sprayed with wastewater, Tustin told the commissioners.
All the petitioners live fairly close to the site, within 125 feet, Tustin said. “They back right up to the sand filter,” he explained.
Commissioner Virgil Shockley suggested conducting any work or spraying at those sites at a different time.
“It’s emanating from the wastewater. It’s there either way,” said Tustin.
Chemical controls, inexpensive and easy to use, will be added to the wastewater, but that is only a temporary solution. Such additives can affect the quality of the treated effluent and the service area could violate its wastewater disposal permit.
Other options are being investigated, but they cost more, and may not be effective. The site is large, as are the sand filters, and this makes the use of fans, aerosols or other odor controls difficult.
“It’s kind of hard to compete with Mother Nature when it comes to fans,” said Commissioner Bobby Cowger.
Welling said she hopes that the upgraded plant, currently being planned for, will take care of the noxious smells.
“I certainly hope they would find a different way to treat that sewage so it doesn’t have such an odor,” said Welling.
A consultant currently analyzing the wastewater plant has also been asked to investigate interim options for odor control as well.
If the county cannot or will not solve the problem, Foley said he is prepared to take the matter to the state.
“It’s going away if I have to push this matter I don’t know where,” he said.
Commissioner Bud Church, whose district includes Mystic Harbor, visited the neighborhood recently to check out the residents’ complaints. He said he would not live in a place that had an odor that strong.
“I’d sell my house and move,” Church said. “When I got back to the car, I could smell it in my clothes.”
Foley is encouraging the commissioners to address this issue on a long-term level, rather than just a short-term Band-Aid.
“I just want the odor to go away, and to go away soon,” said Foley. “This is really past a short-term solution. It needs to be a long-term solution implemented in a quick manner.”