A stink too far

A neighbourhood in George Town is battling the stench from the sewage treatment plant in its midst.

Sterlin Estates signs

Signs erected on Coemer Drive complain of the stench for the waste plant

Residents of Sterlin Estates on Coemer Drive, off Walkers Road, are living with a faulty wastewater plant that has overflowed into their back gardens, leaving a smell that is preventing the neighbourhood’s children from playing outdoors.

The Water Authority and the operator of the plant insisted that steps are being taken to tackle the problem.

Water Authority employees have been making regular trips to the plant, testing its operations and monitoring its performance.

Catherine Crabb, a senior development control technologist with the Water Authority, said the site had a ‘major upset’ in February.

At that time, untreated sewage from the plant overflowed into a neighbouring yard.

‘What we’ve been doing for the past month is helping to come up with a written guide to help the operator with the maintenance it needs,’ said Ms Crabb, who was part of a Water Authority team at the wastewater plant last week along with the site’s operator George Wilkes of Wasteaway.

Rolland Henry, who designed the original plant and who owns a house adjacent to the plant said the smell and the noise from the plant is unbearable. He added that the plant has been modified since he worked on it.

He erected signs near the plant asking for the stink to be dealt with, but they have been removed.

‘I’ll keep putting up signs until something is done about this,’ he said.

Neighbours say the plant recently overflowed, ditching raw sewage on the grass around the small plant and the house next door.

Mr. Henry said that if the plant was working properly, only water would have come out of the plant when it overflowed.

‘Plants are like people. Of course something goes wrong sometime, I understand that, but this has gone on for years,’ he said.

Contacted by the Caymanian Compass, the Water Authority said that samples had been taken from the plant for testing on 19 February.

Ms Crabb declined to reveal the results of the tests, saying the samples were used to establish a baseline by which future monitoring of the 10,000 gallon per day plant could be checked. But she said they showed that the concentration of micro-organisms were insufficient to provide proper biological treatment of the sewage.

She said: ‘The baseline in this case was the plant’s ‘starting over’ point, as it had been extensively pumped down to prevent flooding while a new well was drilled.

‘In a biological treatment system, starting over means that the required concentration of micro-organisms sufficient to treat the incoming wastewater must be built up. This takes time and is accomplished by providing the right environment, e.g., oxygen concentrations and other operational adjustments to the system.’

The plant was seeded last week with micro-organisms taken from another plant that is operating properly.

Ms Crabb said: ‘The Authority’s position is to continue working with the strata and operators of the system to monitor its recovery. It is not the Authority’s position to operate the system or make predictions on recovery.

She added that the plant was now recovering and that it had been pumped out last week. She said complaints about odour and noise from wastewater treatment centres were handled by the Department of Environment Health, not the Water Authority.

According to the Director of the Water Authority, Gelia Frederick-van Genderen the plant in Sterlin Estates has been neglected.

‘Due to the lack of a proper manual for operation and maintenance, it is hard for the strata to determine what the operator, who they employ, needs to do,’ she said.

Ultimately the owner of the plant is responsible for its operation and maintenance, although the Water Authority can advise and direct the owner on what steps to take to rectify the problem.

If test samples show the quality of the wastewater is below the standards set down in law, then the owner can be prosecuted, although the Water Authority says this step is only taken as a last resort.

‘In case plants fail, the Authority works with the owner and operators to address this issue. If there is no cooperation from the owner, the Water Authority has the option to initiate prosecution,’ Ms Frederick-van Genderen said.

The Water Authority requires developers to submit copies of its plans for the sewage works and treatment plant. This was done in the planning stage for Sterlin Estates in 1999. The treatment plant was installed in 2004 and at the time met the standards required by law.

However, since then, the plant has not been properly operated or maintained, according to Ms Frederick-van Genderen.

‘Over the years the Water Authority has worked with the strata and the operators of wastewater treatment plant to ensure that it is properly operated and maintained.

‘In this particular instance the plant is of a customised design, and due to lack of a standard operating manual and various undocumented changes to the plant, it is difficult to operate and maintain the plant properly.’