Suppressing the Stench
Saline's sewage plant looks for a permanent fix.
From the October, 2017 issue
"We smell it daily," says Rebecca Schneider, who lives uphill from the Saline sewage treatment plant on Henry St., "and there are times in the past year when we can smell it inside our house with the windows closed. It's a very strong sewer smell, much more intense than manure."
"There's been an odor off and on for years," says former city councilmember Terri Sibo-Koenig, who lives around the corner on S. Ann Arbor St. "It's not as if you can live next to a treatment plant and it will never smell. But in this last year [it's smelled] almost every day. I have a historic house with a big front porch, and there've been nights when we have to go inside."
Both neighbors complained to city manager Todd Campbell and mayor Brian Marl; Sibo-Koenig says the officials were "very concerned. I understand the need for a process, but it has taken a long time, and a lot of residents are upset. Some don't think they're trying to fix the problem."
One of those unhappy citizens vented by spray-painting graffiti all over an abandoned house on Monroe St., blaming the stench on the mayor and city manager in words too vulgar to print. It was cleaned up the next day, and Marl emails that the "City will never condone trespassing, vandalism, or graffiti. However, people are free to criticize my performance as Mayor, truly, insults do not bother me."
The city thought the odors would subside when it completed a $6.5 million refurbishment at the plant. The work began back in 2008 and was supposed to be done in July 2016. "The contractor asked for thirty [more] days and kept extending it," explains Campbell. "There were minor items that didn't get completed until January of 2017."
"It took longer than we hoped, but I was pleased with the outcome," says Marl. "I was not pleased that we have odor issues worse than before.
"We've received complaints for three decades now," the
mayor adds. "It was quite infrequent, but in the last year and a half the number of complaints has increased. Noxious odors can be smelled by a large number of the citizens, especially those in close proximity on Henry and Monroe and at or near S. Ann Arbor."
"Last August we said we needed to do an odor study," says Campbell. The city hired Webster Environmental Associates, which bills itself as "the world leader in odor control engineering." The company "did the first testing in December, cold weather testing, and they came back the week of July 10 and did warm weather testing.
"People can call the city and report the smell to the study. The people from Webster would be on site in thirty minutes to determine the atmospheric conditions."
Where the stench spreads "all depends on the weather conditions," plant manager Bob Scull explains."We counted from February 14 to July 15, and we received fifty-four complaints. That's when that part of the odor study started. The first week of June we received the maximum number. Most are from the surrounding neighborhood from the same people."
Scull says Webster found the cause: two "odor scrubbers" that were eighteen or twenty years old and "at the end of their life." At the company's suggestion, "we rebuilt the old scrubbers and added hydrogen peroxide [treatment]. The last repair was done the first week of July, and we haven't had any complaints for the last two weeks."
"I haven't smelled it in the past few days," Sibo-Koenig confirmed in August. "It seems less frequent than a few months ago."
But the relief proved temporary. The city eventually concluded that the rebuilt scrubbers were doing more to distribute the smell than to quell it. One was taken offline in August, and the city was considering shutting down the other as the Community Observer went to press.
The city also commissioned Webster to evaluate permanent solutions. In August, the company laid out six alternatives. The firm "recommended, and council accepted, the sixth and least expensive option," Marl says: two new bio-scrubbers. "The cost is $3.9 million."
The mayor says they're already looking into low-interest loans to finance the work. "The consensus is to move forward as expeditiously as possible," he says. The plan is "to do the design immediately and to start construction next spring. It will probably take a year to complete. Webster Environmental believes it could eliminate 99 percent of the odor."
[Originally published in October, 2017.]
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