A mysterious stench has lingered over homes and businesses near Memorial Park Drive and Murphy Boulevard in Gainesville since late June, and now local government is enlisting the help of both public and private environmental agencies to find its source.
“We understand how disturbing this is for area residents and business owners and are doing everything in our power to get to the bottom of this,” Kelly Randall, director of the Gainesville Department of Water Resources, said in a press release Wednesday.
The odor smells like a toilet bowl, raw sewage or dead insects and vegetation, depending on who you ask.
And it reeks across a much greater swath of the county than initially thought, from Atlanta Highway and along Browns Bridge Road to the Hall County Government Center and beyond.
A story about the stench published in The Times last month prompted a rash of phone calls, emails and letters to the editor about the impact it’s had on everyday life.
For example, a resident of the Cresswind at Lake Lanier subdivision off Browns Bridge Road said the stink is sometimes so awful that the family doesn’t dare venture outside.
“Please find the problem,” the resident pleaded in an email to The Times. “It is terrible.”
A resident who lives near Atlanta Highway and Browns Bridge Road said the stench is nothing new, dating back a number of years.
“Where's everybody been?” the resident wrote in a letter to the editor. “...Whenever I'm outside and this odor is in the air I just hold my breath until I get inside and shut the door. For the health of all affected, somebody get on the ball.”
In another letter to the editor, a resident said the smell is most repugnant in Latino neighborhoods near Catalina Drive.
“This needs answers today,” the resident wrote. “My kids’ summer has been pretty much ruined. No kids even play outside anymore in my subdivision … I call this the ‘Summer of Stench Hell.’”
And a man who works off Hilton Drive called The Times this week and said the smell comes in waves, hovering for a time like the wavy lines of stink around Pigpen, the inimitable Charlie Brown character.
Even the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has gotten involved.
The nonprofit has begun reaching out to Latino residents in subdivisions off Memorial Park Drive to inform them about the Neighborhood Water Watch program, which monitors streams in Gainesville for pollution.
This includes Flat Creek, a possible epicenter of the smell, which flows between the Catalina neighborhood and a nearby egg processing plant.
“We are looking for concerned citizens to assist us collecting water samples weekly, which we test in our lab,” said Lee Jackson, headwaters fellow. “We cover the cost of running the tests … all we need are volunteers to bring us the water samples.”
The outcry led city officials to issue a press release Wednesday addressing the stench.
“The city of Gainesville and Hall County government are receiving assistance from environmental services contractors, as well as the (state) Environmental Protection Division and Environmental Protection Agency to determine the cause …” the release states.
Randall said the city is monitoring the stench on a daily basis and that officials hope additional experts can help identify its origins.
“We believe the odor is coming from an organic breakdown, not from a toxic source,” he said.
Possible culprits include a 2- to 3-acre area of rotting vegetation from the removal of a beaver dam along Flat Creek, and an egg processing plant on Memorial Park Drive that lost power several weeks ago, backing up its wastewater pond.
“Several areas have been inspected and deodorizers are being used in the area, but we still can’t say exactly where the smell is coming from,” Randall said. “We continue to keep an eye on a couple locations.”