Thursday, June 7, 2018
Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury Seeks Odor Source In Santa Maria Valley
A government watchdog panel sniffed out a stinky problem in the city of Santa Maria, admitting the source of the odors remains a mystery but suggesting the agency’s website needs a point of contact for such complaints.
In a report released last week, the Santa Barbara County Civil Grand Jury said it undertook the investigation after receiving several complaints.
“These odors affect the quality of life for some residents, and complainants asked the jury to identify the source(s) of the smells and determine if the odors can be mitigated,” the panel said.
On Friday, city spokesman Mark van de Kamp said the agency has created the website as a resource for residents.
Several agencies in Santa Barbara County respond to odor complaints.
Grand jurors interviewed representatives of the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District/Compliance Division, Santa Maria Wastewater Treatment Plant, Office of the Santa Maria City Attorney/Code Compliance, Santa Barbara County Public Health Department/Environmental Health and Santa Barbara County Agriculture Commissioner/Weights and Measures Department.
The investigation also took grand jurors to the city's Wastewater Treatment Plant, west of the city, and one commercial composting facility.
City staff told grand jurors the sewage treatment facility has never been cited for a violation. Odors can occur during some operations, including from the sludge turning into compost and grease traps being unloaded.
If methane gas is emitted, an alarm signals an employee who can take steps to fix problem.
Just outside city limits, the Santa Maria Valley has many agriculture fields with multiple crops, "some of which emit offensive odors during fertilizing and harvesting," the report said.
Longtime residents know it’s not uncommon for the smells of broccoli or cauliflower to waft through the air.
The grand jury also noted the valley includes a composting facility, two wastewater treatment plants, and abandoned oil wells, “any of which may contribute to the odor problem.”
“The number of fields and facilities that could generate unpleasant odors makes it difficult to pinpoint their exact source at any given time, as odors tend to dissipate over time,” the panel said.
“Citizens may contact any number of entities when experiencing an objectionable odor,” the report said.
Grand jurors said that all agencies involved in investigating offensive odors “were responsive to complaints in a timely manner and attempted to locate the source of the odors, often without success, as odors tend to dissipate.
The panel made two findings and one recommendation.
“Identifying odors and locating their source is a challenging process that can involve county and local agencies, making it difficult to mitigate the odors,” the panel said in the first finding.
However, the panel said the city of Santa Maria website lacks a clear point of contact for citizens seeking to make odor complaints, recommending creating a section to clearly spell out where to lodge smell complaints.
On Friday, city staff said the website had been created.
The panel instructed the Santa Maria City Council to respond within 90 days.
June 6, 2018
By Janene Scully