Residents of Castlegar’s Woodland Park neighbourhood are continuing to raise a stink over odour issues from the South Castlegar Treatment Centre, saying the problem hasn’t been fixed for five years.
Residents John and Leslie Shirley and Neil and Judy Roberts live on Connors Road, directly down the street from the sewage treatment plant. They say they’ve been experiencing near-vomit-inducing stenches since 2006 and after dozens of calls to the civic works department, the problem hasn’t been fixed.
“We’re by no means the spokespeople for the neighbourhood,” John said, “I’m just tired of being ignored.”
But Chris Barlow, director of transportation and civic works, said they’ve noted and are working on the problem.
“I know the residents feel that we aren’t taking their concerns seriously, and we are,” he said.
The treatment plant was built in the late 1970s, when there were already houses on the block.
The Roberts’ have lived on Connors Road from the beginning, and say the smell didn’t get really bad until the centre received an upgrade.
Barlow said when the installation of a second extended aeration plant went awry in 2005, the smell was bad, but the problem was fixed.
“During the commissioning process, something went wrong,” Barlow said. The reset button was pushed during the treatment process but the sludge hadn’t had time to settle, creating an odour.
With the installation of sludge basins, Barlow told the residents once an “organic cap” (plants and grasses) grew on top of the basin, the smell would be alleviated once again.
But the Woodland Park residents said the smell continued to waft, prompting a public meeting in 2008 after a petition circulated. After city officials listened to residents’ concerns, John said they were told the problem wouldn’t be fixed overnight, but that they should expect relief within six months.
“I really believed the city was trying to do something,” he said.
But, he said, it seemed like nothing was fixed, and with more businesses and neighbourhoods hooking up to the system, they fear the smell will only get worse.
“Our sewage treatment plant isn’t working as it is, and they want to add more,” he said.
Barlow said the reason the second plant was built was to handle the growth of Castlegar.
“There’s more than enough capacity down there,” he said.
John has kept records of how often he has contacted the city since mid-April. Out of 10 calls, he said he received “no acknowledgment” six times.
“When you do call them, no one checks on it for hours, and the smell may or may not be gone,” he said.
John delivered posters to each resident in the neighbourhood, encouraging them to call Barlow each time they noticed a smell.
“When I was delivering flyers, I told people to call, and they said, ‘we have been calling,’” he said.
“They can’t acknowledge that there’s 15 people calling them because then they’re admitting there’s a problem,” Leslie said.
The residents said they’ve been asked by operations manager Garry Sauer to call when they notice the smell.
“It shouldn’t be a case of how badly it smells or how often it smells, it should be: it smells, fix it,” Neil said.
Judy said the past few months have been particularly bad.
“Whether there are unhealthy gasses or not, the odour is the issue,” she said. “The dog wouldn’t even [walk past the plant] for crying out loud.”
“We know this season we did have issues with aeration,” Barlow said.
Solutions the city is currently looking at include hooking the system up to a computer, which can control the system and aerate the digesters in the middle of the night, when people are least likely to notice the smell. Barlow said he’s also considering having old-growth trees and shrubs planted in hopes of keeping the stinky air within the treatment centre.
“You’re obviously not going to stop the air from going that way but if we can buffer the flow that would be an improvement,” he said.
He added they’re also exploring options to eventually move the treatment plant altogether.
“We do understand that a sewage treatment plant in the middle of a residential neighbourhood might be a problem,” Barlow said.
John said they’ve been wondering why the city even built it there to begin with.
“Why would you put a sewage treatment plant in a residential neighbourhood that’s already established?”
Barlow said people can help the smell by watching what they flush through the system, as well.
“We do struggle with grease,” he said. “Grease is very hard to treat and it also breeds the wrong types of bacteria so we’re asking people not to flush grease down their sinks.”
He asks that restaurants and commercial kitchens ensure their traps are maintained and working and residents put their grease in a container in the garbage.
Woodland Park residents said they’re fed up with complaining and they shouldn’t have to keep doing so after so long.
“We don’t want to get involved in politics, we don’t want hassles and arguments,” Neil said. “There’s a problem. Fix it.”
“I don’t want to downplay their concerns,” Barlow said. “We’re working really hard to bring them in line and under control.”
“But again,” he said, “it is a sewage treatment plant.”