Listen Like a Local Park City & Heber City Summit & Wasatch counties, Utah

Midway residents air grievances over sewer smell

Your browser doesn’t support HTML5 audio

Midway resident Christena Larney speaks to the Heber Valley Special Services Board on July 13. She said she recently had a dream she was getting sick and woke up to odors emanating from the sewage treatment ponds near her home.
Rob Winder

Midway City residents aired their frustrations about unpleasant odors from sewage treatment ponds at a public meeting on Thursday, July 13. Some say it's even impacting their health. 

For Midway resident Christena Larney, the smell coming from the nearby sewage treatment ponds has been a nightmare — literally.

"There was a night a couple of weeks ago where I was in a deep sleep," she told KPCW. "In my dream, I was dreaming that I was getting sick. And so it woke me up because I thought I was going to get sick. And I woke up, and our room had this bad smell."

Larney said the problem has been getting progressively worse over the past few years.

"There's a couple of times a year where it is almost unbearable," she said. "You don't even want to go outside. And it lasts for a while."

Many of Larney’s neighbors have had similar experiences. On Thursday, July 13, about 25 of them packed into the small meeting room in the Heber Valley Special Services District building. And the conversation got heated at times.

Part of the problem is trying to determine the cause. The board referred to a recent test the county performed that found no threat to public health from the sewer system. But Chris Smoot, a spokesperson for Wasatch County Public Health, told KPCW the county regularly tests the wastewater itself, but has never tested the air in Midway for hydrogen sulfide or ammonia. Those are contaminants typically associated with the sewage treatment.

"We don't actually have equipment to monitor for what they're looking at out there," he said.  

He said the department is working with the services district to explore different options to address the situation. But he said there’s only so much the department can do.

"We're kind of stuck in the middle here, though, because we don't really have any authority or regulatory effects over the special service district," he said. "So we're just trying to be a good partner, both with the district as well as the surrounding communities, to try to ensure good health for the people."

The board said air monitors will be installed on district property. Additional monitors in Midway City would have to be approved by the city council. Meanwhile, Special Services District Manager Dennis Gunn said at the meeting he’s been investigating complaints.

"I'm trying to find what you guys are telling me. I have spent hours and hours and hours driving through your neighborhood," he said. "I have not smelled that smell once, not at 11:30 at night, not at six o'clock in the morning."

Midway resident Cami Bingham told KPCW Gunn investigated her complaint on July 4.

"I said I'll be up late if you want to come out. Because I know you want to test it yourself. And then I went inside and got my kids to bed and went to sleep," she said. "The next morning, I looked at my emails and he came 30 minutes later. And he said there was no smell. So what that shows me is that yes, there was a smell. But 30 minutes later, there wasn't a smell."

On July 10, Gunn told KPCW he and his staff regularly conduct field tests with a gas detector. But he acknowledged in Thursday’s meeting that he’s only been using certain equipment for a short period of time, and he would benefit from additional training.

Midway resident Kristy Davis Councill told the board she’s looked into getting an air monitor for her home. She said it would be expensive, but she’s desperate.

She said her 4-year-old daughter had constant gastrointestinal issues when the spring weather first stirred up the smell, and the entire family continues to have issues now. So she’s resorted to a different type of monitoring for now.

"I've started logging every bowel movement in my house," she said at the meeting. "If it comes down to it, I will use that to get this changed in any way possible."

The Heber Valley Special Services District's sewage treatment ponds in Midway.
Rob Winder

The board and the residents discussed a few ideas that could produce some incremental progress. Resident Dan Stead proposed a citizen’s advisory committee to share ideas with the board. The board said that was a possibility, but special services board member and Heber City Council member Yvonne Barney said it would need to include residents from all over the Heber Valley.

And ultimately, no significant immediate change is forthcoming.

"There's nothing we can do overnight this week, or this month, or even this year, to change this lagoon system," board member and Heber City Council member Mike Johnston said at the meeting. "That will take years."

Larney said the whole ordeal has eroded her trust in her public officials.

"They're reading a letter saying, 'Oh, the health county says this isn't an issue,’ and Dennis says, ‘I never smell it,'" she said. "I just feel like saying to them, Do you actually believe that we are feeling sick? And this is a problem?"

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Email