NEWS- Raising a stink: Woolen Mills seeks odor relief

The biosolids hit the fan on Monday, September 25 at the meeting of the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority board as a slew of Woolen Mills residents once more demanded relief from ongoing odors emanating from the Moore's Creek sewage treatment facility and its related composting operation.

"It's so important we do this quickly," Georgeann Wilcoxson told the group. She owns property at 2000 Marchant Street and says the smell has been a problem ever since the city built the station in 1984. 

"I heard someone describe the smell as 'Bombay sewer,'" said Laura Covert after the meeting. Covert, who lives in the 1800 block of Market Street, describes the odor as ranging from sewage to "chemical smells that are less describable."

Neighbors agreed that while the odor can appear throughout the day, it's predictably foul at dinnertime– approximately 6-7pm.

In 2002, the city claimed it had fixed the odor problem by outfitting a pumping station with a new biofilter system. That didn't work, however, and the smell, by many accounts, has only gotten worse.

Architect Chris Hays, a Chesapeake Street resident, says the smell isn't just a nuisance. He points to a Duke University study published in the November 2000 issue of the Journal of Agronomedicine that suggests ongoing exposure to sludge can lead to health problems.

Charlottesville's city manager, Gary O'Connell, who also sits on the Authority board, agreed that a solution must be forthcoming– and quickly. But what that solution will be remained undecided at the meeting's conclusion.

Among options the board considered: trucking solid waste to a landfill to be buried; finding a county willing to allow "land application," in which sludge is dumped into an open space; and the most expensive, erecting a soft cover over the entire facility at an estimated cost of $10 million.

An interim solution of temporarily shutting down the composting operation was suggested by Authority executive director Tom Frederick, but such a move was deferred until the effect of that decision could be determined.

The plant processes between 8,000 and 8,500 "wet" tons of compost per year, which it sells to citizens for garden and lawn fertilizer, and board members questioned the wisdom of losing that revenue.

"Once we get out of the composting market, it's going to be hard to get back into it," said board member Gary Fern.

Frederick pointed out that Charlottesville is the only city he could find that operates a human waste composting operation in a densely populated area.

"Open-air composting in urban areas has become a thing of the past," he acknowledged.

One complication with finding a fix is that the Authority must comply with Department of Environmental Quality requirements that demand at least 25 percent of solid waste be recycled. Currently, the Authority accomplishes that recycling  requirement through the composting program.

Frederick says he and his staff are exploring all options and attempting to determine the effect any decision might have on water and sewer rates.

According to results from a recent study of the facility conducted by environmental engineering firm Hazen and Sawyer, the rate increase for landfill disposal would be five percent, while building an enclosure over the composting facility would require a rate of increase of 17-19 percent.

Frederick says a decision will be reached in the next couple of weeks.

Following the meeting, residents expressed hope that this time the smell might really go for good.

"In general I was happy with what I heard," says Hays. "It sounds like they got the message."

Woolen Mills residents Bill Emory, Victoria Dunham, and Georgeann Wilcoxson turned out for the board meeting of the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority.