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PLYMOUTH, Maine — Linda Seavey said the odor from the sewage processing plant in this southern Penobscot County town is so powerful during warm weather that she can’t even go outside.
“It has taken away my lifestyle,” she said. “You cannot do anything on our streets in the summertime.”
Seavey was one of more than 40 Plymouth residents who attended a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing odor coming from Soil Preparation Inc., a company that processes sludge.
Another resident called the smell offensive.
The word “nuisance is not enough. It’s disgusting,” said the resident, who did not give her name.
Two representatives from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection — Environmental Specialist Carla Hopkins and Rick Haffner of the Division of Solid Waste Management — along with Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, and Soil Preparation Inc. President Phil McCarthy spoke at the meeting in the frigid Grange hall.
SPI,which is on the Valley Road within a half-mile of populated areas along Rtes. 7 and 69, has processed sludge and dewatered septage through advanced alkaline stabilization with subsequent accelerated drying, or the N-Viro Soil Process, since 2000, according to a DEP memorandum. The afterproduct is used in farming.
For more than a decade, Seavey says the smell has been unbearable at times.
“We can’t have a wedding outside, we can’t have a cookout, we can’t go outside, you can’t dry your clothes [outside], you have to close your windows [because of the smell],” she said.
Fredette said the DEP has had trouble enforcing the odor issue because for each complaint, a DEP representative had to drive from Bangor to Plymouth and use their nose to determine if there’s a smell.
“The DEP really has no objective, quantitative way to measure odor,” said Fredette. “There sort of lies the problem. It’s tough to enforce when you can’t objectively measure the odor.”
Fredette said he will introduce a resolve before the Legislature that would direct the DEP to use quantitative measuring devices for odor.
“In this day and age, I can’t believe we don’t have the technology to do this,” he said. “We have quantitative measures for everything else.”
For now, Fredette urged residents to call DEP with any smell complaints from the facility.
“If you don’t call, then it didn’t get logged. If it didn’t get logged, then it didn’t happen,” he said.
SPI is in the process of changing how it does business, said McCarthy.
“We’re trying to bring a new, green technology to the soil preparation,” he said. “The process basically uses bio solids to dry itself, gasify it and create a closed-loop system. We generate a residue for that, which is very similar to ash. We use that ash and only make 20 percent of what we do right now.”
He said cutting SPI’s usage by 80 percent and moving what sludge is outside to an indoor facility would cut down on the odor.
“If I make 100,000 tons a year from existing material that stays outside on a pad, and I have to truck that in and out and move that, you can imagine [the smell] by stirring it up,” said McCarthy. “If I make something over a whole year that’s only one month worth of things [now], and I store it in a building. The smell disappears.”
The company is about a third of the way through the permitting process with the DEP, he said, but construction is already underway.
“We already built roughly half of it,” said McCarthy. “We’ve already brought in three-phase power that we need for it.”
The project would be completed by Jan. 1, 2014, he said.
That’s not soon enough for some residents.
“I don’t want to smell it at all. I want to go outside and enjoy it. I want the fresh air,” said Seavey. “Do you know what it’s like to just go outside and go for a walk and look at the birds? But I cannot do any of that. I want to know how we can put a stop to it. I don’t want to wait until Jan. 1, 2014; I want something done today.”
Seavey also said that property values have plummeted because of the smell.
The increased odor complaints this year were likely caused by the plant stirring up an old pile, said Hopkins.
“Obviously, we don’t know every source of odor at the facility,” she said. “We believe that was contributed to the last rush of odor complaints we’ve gotten over the summer and fall.”
McCarthy said SPI had received 25 odor complaints in 2009 and 2010, 15 in 2011 and 10 in April of this year and 23 complaints since.