Bill to address Salt Lake water odor advances
The City Council is advancing a bill aimed at addressing long-standing concerns about foul odors emanating from waters around the Honolulu Country Club in Salt Lake. Under current law, the city requires stream owners to maintain, dredge and clear the waters and to remove debris, vegetation, silt or other items that may interfere with the water’s natural flow. Bill 43 would add that anything that creates an unsanitary condition or becomes a public nuisance must also be removed. Additionally, the bill would clarify that the city Department of Facility Maintenance is in charge of inspecting waterways and enforcing the law. Violators could face fines of up to $500 a day.
The bill, introduced by Councilman Joey Manahan, who represents the Salt Lake area, passed the second of three readings earlier this month. The measure is scheduled to be taken up at Wednesday’s Public Works, Infrastructure and Sustainability Committee meeting at 1 p.m.
Manahan said the bill would provide the city with the tools needed to push the Honolulu Country Club and other owners to maintain waterways. Nearby residents have long complained about odors coming from the country club’s waters, usually during the summer. “It’s a recurring issue,” he said. “(But) it’s not specifically aimed at the country club. (There are) a lot of these waterways that go onto private property. It gives more clarity to the issue.”
Manahan had said in December that Honolulu Country Club Executive Vice President Gary Brown told him that the country club purchased a dredging machine for about $100,000. Manahan said residents have sent him videos of the country club using the machine. But he said “it’s hard to tell what the overall result is.”
Brown did not respond to requests for comment. Ross Sasamura, city facility maintenance director, said in a statement that the city’s current law places responsibility on a private owner for removing debris and other items only for flood-control purposes. Sasamura said the department has not received any other complaints since early last year about odors coming from the country club’s waterway.
He has said the department can’t pinpoint what’s causing the odor.
For nearly two decades Salt Lake residents have raised concerns about an odor like rotting vegetation and compost emanating from the waterway and banks around the country club. Longtime resident Dennis Egge, who lives at nearby Lakeshore Tower, said the odor comes and goes but is most potent during the hot summer months. The odor, which he said comes from the vegetation and algae covering the water, has been a recurring problem since he moved to the area nearly 20 years ago.
“I know the people who are living right next to the bank, they’re probably really annoyed,” he said. “We push them (the city) to push the country club.”
The country club had dredged the waterway through the mid-1990s until federal wildlife officials warned that the dredging was encroaching on the habitats of endangered species. By the time those restrictions were relaxed, the equipment was not operable and budget constraints reduced the club’s ability to tackle regular maintenance. The waterway was cleared as part of a city-led effort completed in 2005 at a cost of more than $1 million. At that time, the city and country club signed an agreement that the club “shall be responsible for maintenance of the stream banks and waterways.” Thick vegetation has sprouted and debris from storm drains has accumulated.
The state Department of Health, after receiving a complaint, took readings from the waterway near the Country Club Village condominiums in November 2015 and found elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide, described as smelling like rotten eggs. The department had said the readings were not at levels that would cause health concerns. DOH received another complaint in September but an inspector did not detect a hydrogen sulfide smell at that time.
“On very bad days, the odor permeates through our parking garage and into our apartments,” said Lynn Tagawa, a Country Club Village resident, in written testimony to the Council this month. “On many days the unpleasant smell lingers in my apartment and I hesitate to invite guests to my home. The smell is not only unpleasant, but uncomfortable to live with. This problem has been neglected much too long.” Sasamura said the city plans to install metal screens at more than 100 catch basin inlets along several streets in the area, a project expected to begin in July or August. The city will also build two basins to capture some of the sediment, debris and rocks that come from the edges of Aliamanu Crater before they enter the waterway, he said. That project is slated to start in the spring of 2019 after the environmental assessment process is completed.