What’s that smell?

While town and county officials celebrated the grand opening of Washington’s new sewer system, other residents were complaining about sewer-like smells emanating from the county courthouse.

“The courthouse STINKS!!!!” wrote one county resident in an email to the newspaper. “Bad. Really bad. Smells like a sewer that is busted. I was there this a.m., and it was nasty.

“It’s not the first time I’ve been there in the morning when it was almost unbearable. They think it’s due to the new system, and if so, it’s going to be a mess!” the messenger concluded.

“Go smell it out!”

County Administrator John W. McCarthy confirmed the complaints and and so advised those people responsible for the sewer prior to the ribbon-cutting. The “sewer gas smell” had also been detected at the Treasurer’s Office, McCarthy said, but nowhere else.
“It tends to be strongest in the morning, but seems to come and go somewhat randomly,” said McCarthy.

Other courthouse regulars say it is nonsense to blame the new sewer system — that, in fact, this strange smell often occurs this time of year. In the past, it was assumed to be an odor associated with guano from bats nesting in the roof area.

But McCarthy told the newspaper that the smell “is not at all similar to the bat guano smell; that smell is a deeply strong ammonia smell . . . this is not.”

The bats, in any case, are no longer in the courthouse, he said.

McCarthy suggested that gas might be migrating up from the treatment plant through the air space in the sewer’s gravity-flow pipes. “There was some expectation that as the plant geared up to higher capacities, it would go away,” he said.

Unfortunately, it did not go away, and “the rising chorus of discontent now included the judge.”

In the the latest fix to mitigate the odor, baffles were taken off the two manholes behind the courthouse. Designed to prevent rainwater from infiltrating the sewer system, the baffles also did not allow air to escape. So the lack of venting may have forced sewer gas back up the lines to the courthouse. “Since they are gravity-flow lines, and usage at the courthouse is as low as it is,” McCarthy pointed out, “there’s a lot of air space in the pipes almost all of the time.

By Monday, it was reported that the smell seemed “better, but not completely resolved.”