Sewer districts raise stink over proposed odor rules

Several sewer districts objected Wednesday to Snohomish County’s proposed odor control regulations, which they say could force a $25 million retrofit of the Lake Stevens sewer lagoons.

The steep, unplanned expense might force the district to charge ratepayers $25 more a month unless a clear exemption from the county rules is granted, sewer commissioner George Wood said.

Wood and other sewer district officials pleaded with the County Council to delay, reject or give exemptions to rules meant to control nuisance odors from businesses and sewage plants.

The proposed rules stem from emergency regulations approved in 2005 to protect neighbors from bad smells feared from the King County Brightwater sewage treatment plant being built in the Maltby area.

A development agreement for Brightwater signed by both counties last year includes strict rules for the rotten-egg smell from hydrogen sulfide and the acrid smell of ammonia.

Despite having a deal on Brightwater, the County Council continued to renew emergency rules on odors every six months.

The emergency rules are set to expire Oct. 16.

After hearing from concerned officials, the County Council agreed to delay discussions on the proposed odor rules until Oct. 18, two days after emergency rules expire.

“We need to be careful and consider the expense that’s out there,” County Councilman John Koster said.

The rules to control nuisance odors add an unnecessary layer of government, said Darwin Smith, general manager of the Lake Stevens Sewer District.

“This nuisance ordinance is going to become a big nuisance to you,” Smith told the council.

His district’s 8-acre open-air sewage lagoons are slated to be decommissioned when a new $65 million sewage treatment plant opens in 2010.

Spending $25 million to cap lagoons that aren’t generating complaints is a waste of tax dollars, Smith said.

“Do not pass this ordinance,” Lake Stevens Mayor Lynn Walty said. “I don’t think this is in the best interest of the community.”

Mukilteo Water District wants the county to exempt current facilities from the rules, said district general manager Dan Hammer.

County Public Works director Steve Thomsen asked the County Council for more time to evaluate how the rules would apply to county solid waste activities.

Sewer district officials said they take odor complaints seriously and the county rules continue to direct complaints to the facility owners anyway. The county proposal would just add paperwork and onerous odor-testing requirements.

“This is an example of the cure being far worse than the disease,” Alderwood sewer commissioner Larey McLaren said.

Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or

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