Warm summer creates stench

In response to the public outcry, Assembly asks Public Works to explore options to reduce smell

Posted: Thursday, September 02, 2004

Unlike most Juneau residents who embrace sunny days, Bobbe Palmer and her neighbors have mixed feelings.

"If we see the sun is shining, we know it's going to be another smelly day," said Palmer, whose condominium on La Perouse Avenue is one block from the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Palmer, who is receiving chemo-therapy for breast cancer, said the sewage smell makes her more nauseous.

"I have no place else to be through all this. This is my home," said Palmer, 71.

She is not the only person who has noticed the plant's odor is particularly oppressive this year.

Assembly members have received so many phone calls from concerned residents that they asked Public Works Director Joe Buck to explore options to reduce the odor. City staff will report to the Public Works and Facilities Committee once they finish their research.

Buck said an extensive upgrade of the treatment plant can significantly diminish the stink, but he blames the odor on the unusually warm summer.

"When the weather is nice, the wind tends to blow from the treatment plant to the neighborhoods," he said.

Scott Jeffers, city wastewater utility superintendent, said the staff has taken a series of measures to minimize odors during the past 15 years.

The plant installed a new air pump to provide oxygen to keep thickened sludge smelling as fresh as possible. The staff hoses down the residual solids at the top of wastewater tanks every day. Workers use machines to pump a floral deodorant into the air leaving the plant grounds.

"My ideal is to put in a couple of air treatment devices," Jeffers said. He estimates the devices will cost $500,000 to $800,000. "We will have to postpone some of our projects and do this instead."

Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant cleans about 2.2 million gallons of wastewater each day from the Mendenhall Valley and areas north of Hospital Drive. The Juneau-Douglas Wastewater Treatment Plant on the Thane Road rock dump treats 2 million gallons of wastewater from the rest of Juneau and Douglas every day.

Residents said they have smelled improvements but hope the city can do more.

"When I have guests come over for dinner, I call the treatment plant first so they can put more deodorant in the air," said Sue Judson, 60.

Palmer, the neighbor a block away from the plant, urges the Assembly to allocate more funding to address the problem.

"It's a citywide facility," Palmer said. "Surely it is a citywide problem that should not have to be just borne by those of us who happen to live in the few-block area of the plant."

• I-chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.

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