Something smells bad in Carbondale |

Something smells bad in Carbondale

John Colson
The Aspen times
Aspen CO, Colorado

CARBONDALE ” A neighbor of the Carbondale waste water treatment plant says he might be driven out of his house by the stink from the plant, and that his children have been unable to play outside on some days for the same reason.

But the plant’s supervisor, while conceding that there was a problem with odors seeping from the plant in late December and early January, insisted this week that the problem has been fixed.

The plant, built in 1973, is located on the banks of the Roaring Fork River, just downstream from the Highway 133 bridge over the river and close to the semi-rural neighborhood of Satank, where residents reportedly have only occasionally complained about smells until recently.

“The guys at the sewage plant really mean well,” said Elliott Fey, who lives on Glenwood Avenue in Satank, a couple of hundred yards from the plant. “I don’t hold them at fault. I think what we need is a new plant.”

According to Fey, he and his family have had trouble with the emissions from the plant since they moved in, in February 2007.

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“My children walk to the car covering their noses,” he said, adding that the problem has upset guests he’s had over for dinner parties. He produced a spreadsheet with the title, “Satank Sewer Odor Testing,” that indicates two power outages in June of last year, followed by increasing stench from the plant.

“Prevented sleepout in tents,” states the spreadsheet for two dates, June 13 and 14, 2008.

Fey’s mother in law, Janie Toma, who also lives on the property in Satank, said of the issue on Jan. 22, “It’s horrible today. It smells like you’re in an outhouse at a rock concert.”

Over at the Carbondale Community School, located farther away from the plant, to the south, Principal Tom Penzel said, “We’ve definitely been smelling it.” He said that during the pick-up period on Thursday afternoon, parents arriving to gather up their children were making remarks about the smell in the air.

“It comes and goes,” Penzel continued, adding that the smell has been more pronounced “definitely since we’ve come back from break.”

Penzel also said when he first came to Carbondale about a year ago, he looked at houses for sale in Satank and heard some people “joking about the smell, saying things like, if the wind is right it’s a nice place.”

And at the Red Rock Diner on Highway 133, which is uphill and upwind from the plant in normal circumstances, a waitress told a reporter on the telephone, “I’m noticing it [the smell from the plant] right now.”

Fey has talked with officials at the plant, and with Town Manager Tom Baker, who have told him there are “improvements” planned for the facility later this year. But those upgrades might not be completed until the fall, the officials said.

Fey also said he has held meetings with others in the neighborhood in an effort to figure out what to do.

“I’m not waiting around that long,” Fey said about the town’s plans for upgrading the plant later this year. He said he and his family already have talked about moving out from the house they rent from a couple living in New York. He has held e-mailed conversations with his landlord, Dr. Michael Garrett, in which Garrett expressed sympathy and frustration over the situation.

“It’s been brutal, it’s been very difficult for them. They’ve been very patient,” Baker acknowledged, speaking about the Feys.

Mark O’Meara of the town’s sanitation department acknowledged that there have been some problems at the plant recently, starting with the failure of a critical pump back in December 2008. Aside from Fey, O’Meara said, complaints about the odor came from the Days Inn hotel, located upriver from the plant and on the other side of Highway 133.

Unable to get delivery of a replacement pump in anything less than 14 weeks, O’Meara had it rebuilt and reinstalled by the middle of January, which got the plant functioning again. He said he then had to recalibrate the chemistry of the sludge tanks to restore the balance of the “digestment” process.

Once that was done, he said, the plant returned to normal operations and, as far as he knew, was no longer emitting offensive smells.

“We shouldn’t be getting any complaints right now,” O’Meara said.

Both O’Meara and Baker said the town is planning to spend approximately $1.4 million on the plant this year, to add “redundancy” to the facility so that when one part breaks, such as the pump failure, the process can be switched to another part while repairs are made.

And at some time in the future, the two officials said, it is likely that the town’s growth will require construction of a new plant.

O’Meara said the town talked about the idea a couple of years ago, and that estimates at the time put the cost at around $12 million.

But a study showed the plant was only slightly above 52 percent of capacity, serving a population of 6,400 people and the “commensurate commercial” customers, Baker said.

Because state standards indicate no need to begin planning for a new plant until an old one reaches 80 percent of capacity, Baker continued, “to build a new plant didn’t make sense” at that point. The town has projected it has at least five years before growth catches up with the plant.

On the day that O’Meara said breakdown had been fixed and the odors should not be a problem, Elliott said the smell was not as bad as it had been.

But, he said, “Maybe it doesn’t stink right now. But from day to day, you just never know what’s going to happen.”

Others in the neighborhood have not experienced the same intensity of odors, however.

“I’ve lived here 30 years and I’ve never had their problem,” said Kevin Cyr, who lives close to the Fey house.

But, Cyr said, others have complained over the years, and recalled first hearing about complaints from the Feys “about three weeks after they moved in.

“It seems like it’s a corridor it happens in,” Cyr continued. Some have suggested that wind currents might send the plant emissions only in certain directions at certain times, so that that only certain households suffer from the smell.

As for the state of things right now, O’Meara said, “If they’re still complaining today, there’s something going on that I don’t know about.”

Fey said the smell seemed to lessen in the early part of this week, but it returned in strength on Thursday.

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