Problems with storm inlets sting noses in historical neighborhood

Tribune-Star/Bob PoynterOdor: Sewer gas can be detected at the drain opening on the northwest corner of Ninth Street and Maple Avenue.

Looking for ways to improve the quality of life in a historical neighborhood on Terre Haute’s northside, the president of the Collett Park Neighborhood Association is asking neighbors to use their noses.

Pat Goodwin, president of the association and a former city engineer, is requesting residents report where they come across the unpleasant smell of sewer gas coming from a storm water curb outlet.

Goodwin hopes to compile a list of specific locations, so the association can then chart and request repairs from the city of Terre Haute.

“This time of year, you may find that during a walk around the neighborhood, you are greeted by the unpleasant smell of sewer gas coming out of one of the curb inlets. Although it is a common occurrence in most Midwestern cities, since many older neighborhoods have combined sewers where rainwater and house sewage flow together in a single pipe, there are actually ways that these gases can be prevented from escaping into the air. If there is sewer gas coming out of a storm inlet, it indicates a broken or malfunctioning trap in the system,” Goodwin said in email from the association sent earlier this week.

“We have identified maybe six intersections so far within two blocks of the [Collett] park,” Goodwin said Friday.

“Responses to that initial email are continually coming in.” Goodwin, said, adding that he found a smelly inlet on the northwest corner of Ninth Street and Maple Avenue while on a recent jog.

Goodwin is serving his first year as president of the neighborhood association. “Because it is an older neighborhood, we have a few competitive disadvantages, and being in a combined sewer area, sewer gas smell would be a disadvantage,” Goodwin said.

Terre Haute City Engineer Chuck Ennis said the problem is most often noticeable during summer months when hot weather dries up water in catch basins, which are connected to the street storm water inlets. The rain water in the catch basins act like a seal to prevent sewer gases from escaping. However, if the catch basins are dry or damaged, then the seal does not work.

“It is kinda like a trap in a sink or in a floor drain. They can dry out, and what will happen is sewer gas will come back out and get into the air,” Ennis said. “We have thousands of these inlets and catch basins in the city.”

Ennis said neighborhoods, such as Collett Park and Farrington Grove, as well as the center of Terre Haute’s downtown, are on a combined sewer/storm water system. “The real fix is to separate all the storm water sewers from the sanitary sewers, but that is a billion-dollar fix. We end up repairing these catch basins as they fail. It is an ongoing problem and the system is real old,” Ennis said.

Individual sewer inlets are “often correctable,” said Goodwin, the former city engineer. “Sometimes it is because the water gets low in the catch basin, but sometimes the hoods that are used to trap the air are broken. In that case, the sewer gas can still escape and it is just a matter of fixing them. It is even possible, at some point in the past, they were accidentally connected directly to the sewer line instead of going through a catch basin, so there would not be a trap,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin said he moved into the Collett Park neighborhood two years ago. “It is a wonderful neighborhood, and we are so happy to live there. We just want to continue to strengthen it. Maybe these can be fixed, maybe not, but let’s make a list and see if the city can help,” Goodwin said, adding that he wants to collect data from residents for at least two weeks.

Ennis said the city can place any smelly inlets found by the Collett Park Association on its maintenance repair list, “then start checking them off,” Ennis said. To repair or patch a catch basin costs about $1,000; however, to tear out the old basin and replace it will a new one, the cost is about “$2,000 to $3,000,” Ennis said.

“Sometimes we find out the basins have just dried out, and [city wastewater treatment workers] just pour water into it and the problem goes away. But if it leaks, then it has to be repaired or replaced,” Ennis said.

Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.