BRATTLEBORO -- Sandy Pagnuicci was not pleased to find out Tuesday that her sewer rates were going to increase by 6 percent.
The Selectboard on Monday discussed next year's utility budget and talked about the sewer rate hike, largely pointing to bond payments on the new $32 million wastewater treatment plant as the reason behind the rate increase.
Pagnuicci lives at Morningside Commons, just upwind from the plant and she understands that it will be up to the users to pay back the money on the wastewater treatment plant upgrade. But since the town began to change over its system during the past few years the stink from the new plant has been so strong on some days that it prevents her from spending time in her yard.
"I don't want to cause trouble but I don't want to live with it anymore," Pagnuicci said. "And I sure don't want to pay more for it. If they're not going to fix it maybe they can at least give us a break on the taxes."
Pagnuicci said on hot humid summer days the smell is overbearing and she can't garden, cook food outside or spend time on her porch. It is more intermittent in winter, though she said the smell does occur even in the cold weather. Just this week, after she heard that the sewer rates were going to go up, Pagnuicci said she got out of her car and could smell the odor of rotting human waste.
Pagnuicci has contacted the town about the problem, and Public Works Director Steve Barrett said he and his staff are trying to remedy the situation.
Barrett is not entirely convinced that the smell has gotten stronger since the $32 million plant, but he did say it is probably worse than it should be and the wastewater treatment plant operators are experimenting with different methods to try to eliminate at least some of the odor.
"We don't like that people can smell it," Barrett said. "We take being a good neighbor very seriously. It's not a new problem. We expected it to get better after the upgrade."
Barrett said it is not entirely clear why the smell is so bad at certain times of the process.
The plant is not 100 percent completed and he said it could improve once all of the new systems in the plant are up and running.
He said he is looking into different strategies, such as masking the odor with a disinfectant or using odorized fans to control the smell.
"We're working on it," he said. "There are certain times when it is worse. I hope we can coexist with the neighbors.
Pagnuicci, a member of the Morningside Commons Association, has been living in the condominium complex for 11 years, and she said the smell has gotten worse since the upgrade. She has talked with Barrett, and understands the town is trying to deal with it.
"We're not getting enough information. We want a timeline," she said. "We don't want see our property values go down. We don't want to spend another summer smelling sewage in our backyard."
But she said she and her neighbors are getting frustrated after waiting for almost two years, and learning this week that their sewer rates were going to increase was the last straw.
"For two years we have been getting the same vague answers," Pagnuicci said. "It's left me wondering if they built a good plant and if they know how to fix this or not."
Just this week, Barrett said, plant operators experimented with a new agent that might help, but he said it was going to take a week or so to see if it makes any difference.
"We'll keep working on it until we come up with a situation that helps," Barrett said. "But we are dealing with human waste here, and there is going to be an odor."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or email@example.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.