By Steve Hubrecht
A pervasive stench wafted over parts of Invermere throughout the early part of May, creating a stink both literal and figurative among many residents.
The source of odour was the municipal sewage lagoons in Athalmer, and a group of residents fed up with the problem came to last week’s Invermere council meeting seeking answers to their questions, and hopefully a solution to the pungent issue.
“I am sure I am not the first resident to express my concerns and complaints, and certainly this is not the first time we have called asking questions about the odour, but we have yet to be given any satisfactory answers,” outlined Invermere resident Carol Pope at the Tuesday, May 9 meeting.
Pope and her husband have owned a home on 13th Avenue, above the public works yard in Athalmer (where the lagoons are) for more than 20 years. She noted that up until five or six years ago there was no smell issue at all, but over the past few years it has grown increasingly worse, and is “exceedingly bad this year.”
It is now “so putrid that we can no longer enjoy any outdoor time on our deck or patio. We are embarrassed to entertain guests as we never know when that horrible smell will come drifting up the bank. We are not even able to have our windows open at any time because the smell fills the house,” noted Pope.
She added that she’s heard complaints from residents living not just on 13th Avenue, but many different parts of Invermere, and that aside from quality of life, the issue has implications for property values.
Pope and other concerned residents expressed frustration at the many and varied responses they’ve received from district employees about the problem. “It’s almost comical . . .it does start to seem like just excuses,” said Pope.
Invermere director of public works and operations Angela MacLean explained that the district had just, that very morning, begun using a new natural product to address the odour.
The product (which, believe it or not, is called DAZZel sewer sweetener) is a blend of plant-based essential oils that work to reduce smell by binding and breaking down organic waste compounds.
“I’m hoping it will take effect shortly. It took awhile to get the product here, get it into the system and get the dosing right,” said MacLean.
Pope also expressed concerns about Invermere’s sewage system capacity, pointing out that other East Kootenay municipalities have left that particular problem for too long and as a result now have no choice but to implement very expensive solutions.
“We haven’t hit max capacity yet . . . it is something to plan for the future,” responded MacLean, later adding, “there are currently parts of our wastewater collection system that are stressed and are overflowing.”
Several of the concerned residents commended MacLean, contrasting her responses to them to the lack of answers they’d gotten previously. “When we hear something is being done, we feel good about it,” said Pope.
Invermere Mayor Al Miller conceded that communication could have been better, but added that the public works department is going through transition.
“Staffing tends to be a challenge, to find experienced operators everywhere. Even (summer) students have been a challenge,” said MacLean, adding the district is looking to hire a public works staff member who, among other tasks, would deal with reporting and communications on such issues.
“Does the salary (for that position) match the education needed?” asked Pope.
“I’m not a human resources expert, I can’t accurately answer that,” replied MacLean.
Invermere resident Ray Vowels asked, “would you consider any of the gases (creating the smell) to be pathogenic?” MacLean replied no.