Northwest NEWS

June 14, 1999

Front Page

12-year sewer smell won't go away


Gladys Gibson, her son Terry Gibson, and granddaughter Nikki Leder picket Bothell City Hall, protesting the smell of sewage.
Staff photo by Marshall Haley.

   BOTHELL--Enduring a persistent sewer smell in her house for 12 years, while the City of Bothell claims inability to help her, has left a bad taste in Gladys Gibson's mouth. Last Thursday, June 10, Gibson picketed City Hall, joined by her son Terry, who shares her house, and granddaughter Nikki Leder.

   "When I moved my house here 12 years ago, my next-door neighbor told me to prepare for the sewer smell," said Gladys Gibson. "I reported it, but the City has given us the runaround about this since then. When they raised sewer rates last year, I wrote 'paid under protest.'"

   "We can't even barbecue or have friends over in the summer, the smell is so bad," said Terry. "I build fences from south Seattle to Arlington, and I've never smelled anything this bad in any neighborhood. Sometimes we smell it while we're in bed, trying to go to sleep. Several City maintenance workers have told us the problem is that the pump station facility is like an old dinosaur, outdated for the number of houses there. The guys in suits all say it's something else. Each year they (Bothell) raise property taxes, but our property value goes down."

   "Actually, right now it's worthless," said Gladys. "We couldn't sell it if we wanted to, because we're legally obligated to tell buyers about the smell. My next-door neighbor bought his house recently. When he soon found out about the odor problem, he said he was going to sue the sellers for non-disclosure."

   New Bothell Public Works Director John Medina said he has tried everything he can think of to find the source of the odor. Although he has less than four months on this job, Medina has 35 years experience in public works jobs related to sewers. He worked as a construction engineer and sewer system designer in Los Angeles. He has walked in "live" sewers to check sewer operations. He was Director of Public Works for the City of Sacramento before coming to Bothell.

   "I don't blame Mrs. Gibson in any respect," said Medina. "I'd feel the same way if it were my home. It's not that we have ignored the problem, nor that we don't care. I have never doubted Mrs. Gibson that the odor is there. The problem is correctible, and I have no doubt we'll find the problem. We haven't found it yet, but not because we haven't tried. If we knew the source of the odor, we'd take care of it.

   "Since I've been involved, I've told my staff to move on this as quickly as possible and get it resolved. When I heard about this, I found there was some history of it in our records. Staff had previously tried to find the source and would think they fixed the problem, but it always came back."

   Medina said the general cause is a pump station at the bottom of the hill west of Gibson's neighborhood. The sewer runs downhill from the 2-3 affected houses to the pump station, the low point of the area. When the collected sewage reaches a certain level, the pumps activate, forcing the sewage up and over the hill, down to the county's main sewer line.

   "We have tried shortening the collection period in the pumphouse, to reduce the 'ripening' of the collected sewage, before the pump activates," said Medina. "Our crew also intentionally let the pump station holding tank fill all the way up, to simulate the worst-case scenario. We didn't detect any odor source near Mrs. Gibson's house then.

   "We asked her to check her traps and pipes. She assured us they were okay. But recently she had a plumber come in who found she didn't have proper traps in her lines, last month when we tried putting deodorant pellets in the lines near the houses."

   Gibson said she brought the plumber in because the deodorant pellets made the gasses in her house smell worse, not better.

   Medina said housing under construction near Gibson will end the problem in 6-12 months. "The development will build new sewage lines that tie into the county line," he said. "That will give us a short distance to run new pipe to Gibson's home. Then we can close down the pump station."

   "They don't care about us, they want to save money," said Gladys. "Mr. Medina once told us it would cost $118,000 to fix our problem. If he knows the cost, he must know the problem."