Foul odors plague Aspen downtown core |

Foul odors plague Aspen downtown core

The Mill Street pedestrian mall, near the Summer fountain, seems to be one of the epicenters of the noxious odors.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

At least two areas in Aspen’s downtown core have been inundated by sewage-like odors during the past month that have even caused health problems for employees at two businesses.

“The other day, oh, my, god, I was like, ‘It’s booty air,’” said Brigid Brumby, an employee at Covet jewelry store located just south of the intersection of Mill Street and Hyman Avenue.

That intersection near the fountain popular with children in the summer seems to be one of the epicenters of the noxious odors. Locals who wait for the Hunter Creek bus across from the Wheeler Opera House may have noticed the strong smells in recent weeks.

One area restaurant manager, who did not want to be identified, said the odors began in January and tend to come in waves.

“It doesn’t always stink, but when it stinks, it really stinks,” he said. “It’s disgusting.”

He said that while he hasn’t received any complaints from customers, he can see the revulsion in their faces when the smell wafts through the door.

“It’s like walking into an outhouse in July,” he said. “I think it’s an issue the city’s not dealing with.”

Another area restaurant manager, who also requested anonymity, said the problem was much worse during the past offseason, though the past couple weeks also have been unpleasant.

“I had friends in town this weekend for the Cocktail Classic and they said, ‘It smells like s— in this town,’” she said.

An Aspen Times reporter heard a man walking north of the fountain at Mill Street and Hyman Avenue on Wednesday remark to his companion that it always smells like “poop” in the area.

Brumby and her co-worker, Jan Porter, said the odors return every spring and seem to be worse when the weather warms.

“For years it’s been this way,” Porter said.

Further south and east, along Dean Street between Hunter and Galena streets at the base of Aspen Mountain, the odors coming from a storm sewer have forced one area business to take action.

Rob Small, an employee at The Ski Shop, said he and his co-workers have been dealing with the problem for a month now. He said the stench would continually blow into the shop and finally became too much to tolerate.

Small said he complained to the city’s Health Department but got nowhere. So he and his co-workers covered up each of the storm grates from Galena Street past the Ski Shop, which took care of the problem.

The one uncovered storm grate east of The Ski Shop emitted a nausea-inducing stench Wednesday.

Employees at businesses east of that grate, who also requested anonymity, said the odors have been causing them to have headaches for the past month to month and a half.

“I’m getting ice cream headaches here,” said one man.

The man said he complained to the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District, who told him the culprit was a nearby hotel’s grease trap. However, an engineer from the hotel told him it was “sulfur from the mines,” the man said.

“It’s pretty s—y,” he said. “I couldn’t get a straight answer out of anybody.”

Tom Bracewell, superintendent at the sanitation district, said Wednesday after investigating the odors at Mill Street and Hyman Avenue, it was probably decaying organic matter that washed into the storm sewers. Warmer temperatures during February likely exacerbated the decay and with nothing flowing through the system, it’s just sitting there, he said.

“It’s awful,” Bracewell said of the smell near the fountain grate at Hyman Avenue and Mill Street. “It’s much stronger (an odor) than a sanitary sewer system.”

Bracewell said his agency is not in charge of storm sewers like the ones along Dean Street.

Scott Miller, Aspen’s director of public works, investigated the odors with a reporter at Hyman and Mill on Wednesday to make sure it wasn’t natural gas escaping. He said the smell wasn’t natural gas. Miller wasn’t available later to comment on the storm sewer odors along Dean Street.

Regardless, Justice Snow’s manager Michele Kiley said something needs to be done about the sewer odors emanating from all over downtown.

“There’s a problem with the infrastructure in the core,” she said. “It’s time for the collective restaurants on restaurant row to take this up with the city.”

Justice Snow’s experienced serious odor problems during the renovation of the Wheeler Opera House, though those problems cleared up once the project was completed, Kiley said. However, she recently experienced foul odors coming from the storm sewer north of the restaurant where her car was parked.

“I’ve actually had guests put on checks, ‘This place smells terrible,’” Kiley said.

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