On certain nights come summer, Jeanie and Ken Manness are reminded they live below a sewage treatment plant that year after year has been poisoning the air.
Grandchildren and other visitors are forced indoors to escape the smell, which lingers and clings to curtains and rugs if it sneaks inside.
The couple moved to their Curtis Road home 12 years ago. Lately, it seems the stench has become more noticeable.
“The smell is so awful, like a chemical, fecal mixture smell,” said Jeanie, who figures at least 22 homes in the neighbourhood near Point Holmes are affected by the smell. “The only thing you can do is get away from it. Go inside, shut your doors and windows. Even the chimney, the smell comes down there … This is a constant, big smell. It affects your life.”
Jenny Steel, who has lived with her husband on Curtis Road since 2011, says the air tends to stink in the summer when the air is still.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “It’s embarrassing and it’s smelly and I don’t like to go outside. And it’s a nuisance.”
The Comox Valley Water Pollution Control Centre, located on Brent Road in Area B, was built in 1984. The plant, which treats wastewater from Courtenay and Comox, includes an odour control system that was installed in 1997.
When she has called to complain about the smell, plant workers have told Steel that maintenance was being performed, or their hands were tied by an Odour Control Policy — which she does not consider an acceptable response.
She is gathering background information about the history of the treatment plant, which she hopes to share with neighbours on a private website.
Steel has discovered that the smell is nothing new. After residents launched a case that resulted in an out-of-court settlement in 1991, the regional district agreed to install odour control measures. The biggest problem was caused by composting, which was moved offsite in 1992/93. Other measures were supposedly installed between 1993 and 1997.
But the smell lingers.
Steel is concerned it will worsen because the policy, which the CVRD board adopted in 2006, says the district will not spend further money on odour control unless new technology could lessen the smell for a reasonable cost, among other exceptions.
Senior manager of engineering services Marc Rutten says the CVRD works hard to minimize odours from the facility by ensuring that odour control equipment is functioning as originally intended.
The policy also says the estimated cost of addressing odour complaints through the installation of fixed covers exceeds $1.4 million — which is considered “disproportionate to the benefit that is likely to be achieved.”
At the same time, treatment plant upgrades are slated for 2016 and 2020. Costs are $6.5 million and $24 million respectively.
“That’s not fair,” Steel said.