Town stifles its own stink law
Town officials have, for the past few years, been ferociously cranky about foul “odor excursions” coming from the wastewater treatment plant the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District operates along the Eagle River on the western end of town. And they’ve harshly criticized the district, which, in turn, has fought in court to kill the laws the town uses to fine the plant when odors escape.
Meanwhile, the rotten smells have driven residents who live near the plant nuts.
Lately, however – though Avon officials say the problem isn’t solved – council members have been a lot happier about the lack of odors at the plant. And Tuesday they agreed not to enforce the town’s stink law for at least two months.
“But we contemplate them continuing to improve, ad nauseum,” Town Councilman Mac McDevitt said just before council voted unanimously to stifle its stink law under a two-month moratorium.
The law has allowed the town to fine the plant a few hundred dollars when at least three residents complained about foul odors wafting from the plant, which is only a few hundreds yards from the large Sunridge apartment complex.
“I would agree it’s been a lot better,” said Town Councilman Mike Brown, who lives at Sunridge.
The plant’s director, Bob Trueblood, said when Avon police officers come to the plant to issue fines, it makes his workers feel like criminals.
“Life is getting better inside the plant and that translates to life getting better outside the plant,” Trueblood said of the district’s efforts to improve working conditions.
The sanitation district has been constantly battling the law in court. Last year, it scored a victory when a judge declared a previous, stricter stink law unconstitutional.
The plant also has fought just about every fine issued by the town.
But council members Tuesday credited Trueblood for making the air smell sweeter. Trueblood was hired last spring, and since then complaints have plummeted.
In fact, odor complaints have dropped from about ten a year to around four, town officials said.
“They’re being rewarded for good behavior over the past few months where we’ve had no problems,” said Town Councilwoman Debbie Buckley.
Trueblood said there’s only been two substantial complaints about odor in the last 14 months. He also said the plant has several upgrades planned for the coming months.
“Things are going to happen and what we need to do is respond as quickly and thoroughly as possible,” Trueblood said. “I think we’re doing an excellent job.”
This summer the plant plans to relocate chemical tanks to prevent those smells from seeping out. And in early October, the plant will upgrade its “air handling” system by installing new fans. To do that, the plant will have to take system off-line for a few days, Trueblood said.
“It is possible people might pick up a musty odor while that’s happening,” Trueblood said.
Those odors shouldn’t extend too far beyond the plant, however, and workers will install backup equipment to keep most of the smell from escaping, Trueblood said.
The Town Council and plant officials will now try to strike an inter-governmental agreement, or IGA, aimed at keeping the two agencies out of court. A goal of such an agreement would be to encourage the plant to continue improving its wastewater treatment system while not issuing fines, McDevitt said.
The town would also like the plant to drop its lawsuits against the stink law, he said.
“I didn’t realize the amount of time it’s taking (plant) managers to defend these things,” McDevitt said. “And we recognize that they have made significant improvements over the past year-and-a-half.”
Trueblood still encourages residents who smell odors to call the plant immediately.
“We need people to call us and let us know when they first detect something,” he said. “We’ve had calls; we’ve absorbed the smell quickly and there hasn’t been a second call.”
Though the once-sour relationship appears to have improved by leaps and bounds, another serious odor problem could rekindle the town’s frustrations with the plant.
“We don’t care what causes the odors. We basically don’t have any tolerance for them,” McDevitt said.
Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at email@example.com.