The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

By Fern Greenbank
LOG Editor 

Lowell Point residents sound off about stinky lagoon


Residents of Lowell Point took advantage of the opportunity to express their frustration and concerns over the smell at the sewage lagoon at Monday’s night’s city council meeting.

On Aug. 8, the bids for dredging the sludge at the sewage lagoon will be in and ready for review. In the meantime, residents say the smell is getting worse and worse.

“Never before have I experienced problems breathing,” said Lowell Point resident Bill Pfisterer. “In the middle of the night, there is a vapor pushing on me.”

Pfisterer said he didn’t think the city was being a good neighbor, in part because the city never asked residents in 1979 if they wanted a sewage lagoon in their neck of the woods.

Director of Public Safety W.C. Casey said in 1979, there were only a handful of residents at Lowell Point. At that time, said Casey, the campground area wasn’t there and tourism wasn’t developed. For the first 13 years, the sewage lagoon worked properly, said Casey. Then, there was a tear in the liner. For some reason, the lagoon was redesigned from a six cell treatment lagoon to a two cell lagoon. When that was fixed, the lagoon worked well. A few years ago, said Casey, something went awry with the airlines and there isn’t enough air now to biologically treat the sewage and it’s an expensive fix.

“I’ve been trying for years to get the sewage fund healthy so we can address all the issues,” said Casey. “Our guys can’t go in there to fix the problems until the lagoon is emptied and dredged.”

Casey hopes they will be able to create an environment that allows for biological reduction. In the meantime, the city has placed four surface aerators to help decrease the smell. The city has also ordered calcium nitrate to add to the lagoon to reduce the smell. Casey said the nitrate should be in the pond Friday if all goes according to plan.

Casey said he’s had to do a lot of research, while also trying to spend time at the lagoon each day to assess the smell and speak with residents. Some of the parts needed for repairs are hard to find, he said.

“We know it smells,” said Casey. “We are out there every day and there is always going to be a musty smell because of the nature of what it is. The beach smells similar at low tide because of the same kind of biological process in the ocean.”

But, Pfisterer said some residents of Lowell Point don’t feel the city is showing enough compassion or keeping them in the loop about the timeline for the smell remedy. He asked the city to consider testing the air quality because he believes the air contains dangerous toxins.

“Please take this seriously,” said Pfisterer. “Let’s not just trust our noses.”

Environmental toxicologist, John French, said our noses often develop what he called “olfactory tolerance.” But, he said, there are toxins that require air monitoring and when the lagoon is dredged, higher concentrations of those toxins could be released.

Councilwoman Ristine Casagranda asked Casey if the start date for dredging could start earlier than May 15 to make sure tourism is not affected, but that would require a change to the request for proposals that has already been posted.

Lowell Point resident Sue Lang, who owns and operates campgrounds there, said she her business is suffering because of the smell at the lagoon. She said she has rented one-third fewer campsites from the same time last year.

“Every time a toilet flushes in Seward, we smell it,” said Lang. “I don’t think you are being a good neighbor because I had a mother come and tell me that her kid was up all night retching at the campground.”

During the final public comment portion of the council meeting Monday night, Lowell Point resident Lynda Paquette said she, too, is concerned about toxic levels of hydrogen sulfide.

“It is heavier than air,” said Paquette. “It lays on the ground and we only get relief when the wind blows.”

She said that every day since July 10 she smells it when she gets up in the morning and when she goes to bed. She said she is afraid to open her door.

“I can’t tell you the kind of stress we are living under,” said Paquette. “How do we move forward? How do we take reservations?

Casey said he isn’t aware of toxin levels high enough in concentration to harm someone and has not been made aware of specific health hazards other than the smell that is higher on some days than others.

“The wheels move really slow with these kinds of things,” said Casey. “I’m trying to plan so we can not just fix what is wrong now, but we can make sure measures are in place so it won’t ever happen in the future.”

City Manager Jim Hunt was asked to provide the council with an update in two weeks and he agreed.

“It’s on my mind every day,” he said.


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