Officials trying to find odor source
Odors that have plagued two areas of downtown Aspen in recent weeks are likely the result of decaying organic matter, though the city will run tests to determine the exact source.
That’s according to the city’s stormwater director, April Long, who said this is the first year she’s received reports of the odors.
“This is a big deal for the stormwater program,” Long said. “We’re trying to figure it out.”
The main concern is that if a pollutant has been introduced into the storm system, it could eventually make it into the Roaring Fork River, she said.
“We need to know that,” Long said.
However, Long said she and other staff members think the smell is coming from organic matter that washed into the stormwater system in the fall, then thawed with the warm February weather and began decaying.
“That can smell like a pig sty,” she said. “That’s what it smells like to me.”
The odors have been reported in the area of Hyman Avenue and Mill Street near the large metal grate covering the fountain popular with children in the summer. Employees at nearby businesses told The Aspen Times on Wednesday the sewage-like smell comes and goes but has been strong in recent weeks.
“It’s like walking into an outhouse in July,” one nearby restaurant employee said of the smell.
City crews clean out the storm system regularly, Long said. In fact, crews last week cleaned out storm drains just north of Hyman and Mill based on an odor complaint from an employee from a nearby art gallery, Long said.
Long said a contractor reported cleaning out grease traps from several area restaurants in the area last week, which could be one possible explanation for the foul odor. Also, the city received a report recently of grease stains near the fountain at Mill and Hyman, and it says it suspects that restaurant waste may have been dumped into it, she said.
The other smelly downtown area is along the pedestrian path on Dean Street at the base of Aspen Mountain between Galena and Hunter streets. An employee of a nearby ski shop told the Times on Wednesday that he covered several storm-sewer grates with plastic because the odor coming out of the grates kept blowing into his shop.
One uncovered grate east of the ski shop stank badly like sewage Wednesday, and two employees of nearby stores told the Times that the odor has caused headaches for them and at least two other employees. Those employees said they didn’t report the headaches or the odors to the city.
The ski-shop employee said he reported the smell to the city’s Environmental Health Department and was referred to the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District. An official from the sanitation district investigated the odors Wednesday and said they were likely the result of decaying organic matter but that it wasn’t something his agency deals with.
A call to the Environmental Health Department on Thursday was not returned.
Last week, city staff asked the engineering staff at the Residences at the Little Nell to clean out a sump pump, which occurred, Long said. However, the inlets from the facility to Dean Street were not cleaned, she said.
A message left Thursday for the Residences at the Little Nell engineer was not returned.
Long said Thursday that city staff will take water samples from both areas to try and determine the source of the odors.
“I’m not sure why it’s smellier than normal,” Long said. “This is the first year I’ve been notified (of the odors). We’ve not received reports of it before.”
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Basalt mayoral candidates Bill Kane and Rob Leavitt said at a Feb. 10 forum they endorsed the town government’s $1.34 million expenditure to expand a riverfront park. Candidate and councilman Bill Infante said not so fast and provided an alternative view.