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Owls Head stench hangs in the air

Despite promises made back in June that, this summer, the Owls Head water treatment plant wouldn’t set Ridgites’ noses wrinkling in displeasure, people living near the facility have gotten an olfactory workout in recent weeks.

As August came to an end, indeed, both Community Board 10 and City Councilmember Vincent Gentile had received numerous calls from area residents complaining of foul odors emanating from the plant.

The situation was a far cry from the statement made by Vincent Sapienza, an assistant commissioner with the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), at CB 10’s June meeting. Sapienza, who has been making monthly reports to the board on the status of Owls Head, told the group at the time that this was going to be, “the least smelly summer ever.”

Nonetheless, in the middle of August, reported Josephine Beckmann, CB 10’s district manager, “We got a bunch of complaints. Then, we didn’t get any calls, then, over the weekend, we got calls again.”

“We did get a lot of complaints,” acknowledged Michael Saucier, a spokesperson for DEP, the agency that oversees the facility.

“In response to the complaints,” he went on, “last week we replaced some of the carbon canisters at the site. That helped a lot, and the complaints haven’t come back since in the degree they were last week.”

The odors were particularly pungent in mid-August, attested one resident of 6801 Shore Road, the closest apartment building to the plant.

“The plant never has no odor,” the resident remarked. “There was a period of time when I thought the odor was less frequent, but, last week, I was speaking to people standing in front of the building and everyone say, ‘Oh, my God, that stench.’ It was really bad and it went on for days.

“We have a beautiful park, we have the pier, and there are days you wouldn’t want to be out there, because of the odor,” the resident added.

Another issue is noise. “They recently reconnected the PA system,” the Ridgite said. “At 6:45 a.m., you could jump right up in bed. It sounded like we were living next to Yankee Stadium. So, we complained and they said, ‘Okay, we’ll only leave it on from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.”

“There’s less of an odor than there used to be, but it’s still present,” commented Greg Ahl, the chairperson of CB 10’s Environmental Committee, who said that he can sometimes smell the plant from his apartment, four blocks away. “People who live across from it get it a lot more than I do,” he added.

Ahl also stressed that the noise issue needed to be addressed by DEP. “A lot of people are tired of hearing the PA system in the plant,” he said. “They are almost using it as an intercom, talking back and forth over the speakers.”

Overall, said Saucier, the situation at the plant – which is awaiting the start of a 42-month-long, $39 million construction project – has gotten considerably less odiferous. “Despite the issues last week, we have made significant strides over the past couple of years,” he contended.

According to Saucier, DEP has installed covers with carbon filtration over some of the tanks, where odors were strongest. The agency has also installed a new filtration system in one of the plant’s rooms, sealed windows in one building and put up a temporary building to house tanks that were previously open to the air. A permanent building to contain those tanks is the centerpiece of the impending construction project.

Nonetheless, opined Gentile, “It’s unfortunate that it took complaints for them to check the weirs and see that the covers had eroded faster than had been expected,.”

The councilmember said he would be “requesting a meeting by mid-September with (DEP Commissioner) Emily Lloyd. I want to go over with her exactly what they are planning to do and when. I’d like to see them get it done sooner rather than later,” he added. “It shouldn’t take four years.”

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