‘Stinky neighborhood’: Will a $9.3 million project pass the smell test?

RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick says the latest odor-control project should combat 99 percent of the stink.
Mina Pirasteh RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick says the latest odor-control project should combat 99 percent of the stink. Mina Pirasteh

Nauseating smells from a wastewater treatment plant have long plagued the neighborhoods of Belmont-Carlton, Woolen Mills and others nearby. After a series of semi-unsuccessful smell-combatting projects, the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority says these odors may finally meet their match.

RWSA Executive Director Tom Frederick, a member of RWSA since 2004, says the smells from the Moores Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant have lingered since his first day on the job and, he imagines, for decades before, beginning when the city first built a treatment facility there in the 1950s.

So where do the smells come from? Frederick doesn’t mince words.

“We receive and have to treat what gets flushed from the toilets of 120,000 homes,” he says. RWSA’s 80-acre facility treats 10 million gallons of wastewater per day, which comes from city and county homes and businesses.

Jim Duncan, a realtor with Nest Realty, has sold houses in the Belmont area for 13 years and says his clients have told him the odor in Belmont is there intermittently.

“It’s a known issue that’s been discussed for many, many years,” he says, and when it comes to buying and selling houses, the seller isn’t under any obligation to make a disclosure. “It’s something that [buyers] could do their research and know about.”

He does say a good buyer’s agent should inform a client of the potential smell, but he’s never seen a Belmont house stay on the market for a prolonged period of time because of the stink.

Longtime resident Bill Emory, who purchased his Woolen Mills house in 1987, says he was unaware of the sewage plant’s proximity when he moved in.

“It later made itself known,” he says, “just through the smell.”

Emory adds that real estate agents don’t usually say, “Oh, by the way, this is known as the stinky neighborhood.” But, as Duncan says, the smell in Emory’s neighborhood comes and goes. He’s situated about three-tenths of a mile away from the plant.

Admitting that the odor does affect the quality of life in Woolen Mills, Emory still says he’s never considered moving.

Emory says RWSA’s previous odor-control efforts, such as reducing the amounts of released nitrogen and phosphorous and only operating certain machinery during the day to prevent nighttime stink, have had an effect on the strength and frequency of the smell.

As part of a two-phase, long-term master plan created in 2007, RWSA completed a number of projects, including moving a septage receiving tank away from the front gate and enclosing it, covering some channels and providing wet chemical scrubbers that vacuum air space and remove odor compounds, to finish phase one by mid-2012. The authority was allotted $2 million from a capital improvement plan in January 2014, solely for the purpose of managing odors, and the newest investment of $9.3 million (not from the CIP) will initiate the second phase of the project.

Emory is hopeful that the latest advancement will finally get the job done and applauds Frederick for working patiently over the years and investigating the odor issue with sound scientific and engineering methods.

After an odor study and sampling, a team will construct a new grit-removal facility on the property and cover or decommission some older amenities known to cause bad smells. A network of air piping throughout the treatment plant will capture the odors, which will be treated using advanced biological scrubbers, as well as existing chemical scrubbers.

While the group is still accepting construction bids for the project, Frederick says the contract should be set by January, and workers will begin ordering equipment in March or April. Once construction begins, the project will take 18 to 20 months to complete.

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