A foul smell greeted children on Banker Avenue as they waited for the school bus Tuesday morning, giving them a good whiff of exactly what sewage sludge smells like when it’s been spread out to compost.
But the smell didn’t come from a landscaper or an overflowing toilet. It floated up from the city’s sewage treatment plant, where workers had to turn off the compost facility’s blowers so that the old fans could be replaced.
The work will continue today but should be done by the end of the day, according to plant manager Paul LaFond.
The compost started to smell much worse when the blowers had to be turned off early Tuesday morning. But then the weather conspired to make the problem even stinkier.
“With the cold, dense air, the air from the compost doesn’t disperse easily,” LaFond said.
Instead of spreading out, the odiferous air hovered over the plant and nearby neighborhoods, including the downtown.
Residents were less than thrilled by the situation, which continued until the weather turned to sleet at mid-morning.
“This is not ‘worse,’ this is disgusting,” said Todd O’Brien, who lives on Banker Avenue in Niskayuna. He and his son wanted to cover their mouths while they waited for the school bus, he said.
“I still have the taste in my mouth. It’s not right,” he said. “And they say tomorrow too? They should have had a plan.”
However, downtown restaurateurs said the smell didn’t infiltrate their businesses. Most said they didn’t even notice it, particularly since it was fading away at lunchtime.
JoAnn Sifo, owner of Chez Daisie on Jay Street, said she never caught a whiff.
“It smells too good in here to smell what’s outside,” she said, adding that it would have bothered her customers if the weather had been nice enough to sit outside.
“But this time of year, no,” she said. “And what are you going to do? Things happen. It got fixed.”
Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said there was no way to replace the blowers without first turning them off, even though that would create the issue.
“It’s kind of unavoidable,” he said.
LaFond said he’s been turning the blowers back on as often as possible throughout the day, as each new blower is installed.
“But it’s such a shock to the system, it can’t keep up,” he said.
He added that the blowers wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
“They were losing their efficiency. The duct work also was deteriorating in the damp. Because of the atmosphere with compost — condensation with steam — it’s extremely good to go as long as we have,” he said.
The blowers were installed when the compost facility was built in 1987. Most municipalities burn or landfill their sludge, but Schenectady turns it into compost and sells it to landscapers, as well as using some of it for city landscaping.
“The revenue we receive offsets the cost of the operation,” Olsen said. “It is cool — not many municipalities compost their sludge. We actually recycle it.”
The city is spending $192,000 on the new blowers.
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