New equipment to get rid of foul stench

City officials say an expensive fix is needed to eliminate the stench produced by a wastewater treatment plant that was supposed to be odorless when it opened in 2000.

The smell from the city’s $53 million Calera Creek Wastewater Recycling Plant, which was considered state of the art when it opened, has prompted complaints from the Vallemar neighborhood and surrounding areas.

At its meetingMonday, the City Council will consider the purchase of new digester equipment from Thermal Process for up to $390,000 to reduce the odor from the current digester.

Plant manager David Gromm said that when the initial digester — the process and equipment used for treating what’s left after removing the waste from the water — was bought it was “emerging technology” but “wasn’t really developed yet.”

Gromm has “full confidence” that the new technology from Thermal Process will cut down the odor to “very little smell, if anything.”

Mayor Sue Digre said they had the “top-of-the-line science at the time” when the plant opened. When it opened the plant was expected not to have any smell, she said.

“When you think something’s perfect, Mother Nature has a twist that you wouldn’t expect,” Digre said of the stench. “I think we’re all hoping that this could do it.”

In May, the wastewater plant, which serves the entire city, installed 1,800 solar energy panels at a cost of $2.6 million, half of which was paid for by Pacific Gas and Electric.

Some in the community, however, question the city’s ability to pay for the upgrades.

Mike Bell, a Realtor and Parks, Beach and Recreation Commission member, called the smell “really bad” but questioned how the city would pay for it given the state of the city’s roads and the number of police officers.

“I don’t know where they think they’re getting all this money,” Bell said.

Funding for the wastewater plant comes from the city’s Enterprise Fund, made up of property taxes and water usage, which is separate from the city’s General Fund, Gromm said.

Digre said the city would find a way, calling the odor a “quality of life” issue.

“We’ve been a city that’s always tightened our belts and always survived,” the mayor said.

dsmith@examiner.com

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