The stench returns to town

Published 10:24 pm Friday, December 10, 2010

The end of autumn might still be a couple of weeks away by the calendar, but the thermometer has been registering “winter” for well over a week now. This year, the change of seasons has brought with it more than cold temperatures — it has also brought the unfortunate return of the stink that defined life in a large portion of the city for most of the winter and spring of 2009 and 2010.

After suffering for months last year from a stench far worse than the normal landfill odor, residents of neighborhoods along Nansemond Parkway, Wilroy Road and other areas near the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s Route 58 landfill finally got a break when atmospheric conditions changed with the turning of the seasons. Coinciding with that natural change was Ciba Corporation’s installation of a system designed to collect some of the gases that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality has blamed for the smell.

Despite the efforts of Ciba Corp. and the Southeast Public Service Authority, however, the return of winter’s odor-dispersing atmospheric conditions has made it clear the problem remains. Residents have begun to complain again about the smell, and folks in portions of Suffolk who might never even have been aware the city hosts Hampton Roads’ largest dump have found themselves wondering at the source of that awful stench.

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Bucky Taylor, SPSA’s executive director, continues to promote the idea that part of the problem is the Great Dismal Swamp, as well as other industries in the area. Neither explanation, however, explains the fact that the foul odor was never a problem in Suffolk until last year. Both the swamp and the chemical companies that have been blamed have been around far longer than that. And the landfill, which everyone except for SPSA officials believes to be the culprit, only in the past year or so began to experience the combination of atmospheric conditions and volume necessary for the new odor to make itself known.

SPSA’s efforts to contain the problem are evident in the fact that the odor this year has not reached the levels it hit last year. But the continuing complaints make it clear that more needs to be done. Considering the number of people who form their opinions about Suffolk based on what they smell as they drive along Route 58, the city cannot afford for SPSA to be complacent about the problem.