Sunday, January 30, 2000

'Goo' not the same

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — “Stop the sewer plant,” says a big sign along Burlington Pike. Yeah, OK. When Northern Kentucky stops going to the bathroom.

        That's what it will take to derail the construction of not one but two plants. The first is planned for Belleview Bottoms in western Boone County. The second will end up in southern Campbell.

        In a shocking development, some people are mad.

        They don't want to live near big tanks of icky goo. In western Boone, residents have filed lawsuits, claiming the plant's location was arbitrarily chosen. They're worried about the smell, the loss of farmland and the growth that follows public utilities.

        These concerns are understandable, but they aren't compelling. We live in a booming region. Boone County's population alone is expected to increase by 46 percent over 20 years, planners say.

        Human beings have needs. What can you do?

        What's more, sewage plants aren't as stinky or as ugly as they used to be. And there are other ways to limit growth in western Boone. The land-use plan calls for mostly rural farmland there. Resi dents should make sure the Fiscal Court follows it.

        That said, there's no way to avoid saying this as well: Belleview Bottoms isn't the best spot for a sewage plant. But other options fell through, and the sanitation district is running out of time.

        At the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the big shots said they didn't have room for a plant. Near Rabbit Hash, a big-shot newspaper executive helped persuade Cinergy not to sell its land for a plant.

        So Sanitation District No.1, after starting with about 50 possibilities, ended up with 100 acres of farmland in Belleview Bottoms.

        The darn thing has to go somewhere, and Belleview is conveniently close to the Ohio River. This saves money, because lightly treated sewage can be dumped directly into the water.

        When people need a break from fit-throwing, they can take some comfort in new technology.

        I talked to Jim Joyce of Houston, a big shot in odor control. He manages to make icky goo sound interesting.

        This is partly because he's so excited about working with Northern Kentucky. Usually, he's called in after plants start smelling, he says.

        Once upon a time, people who complained got this reaction from government: Well, duh. Sewage stinks. Get a life.

        “And people would just put up with it,” Mr. Joyce says. “Not anymore.”

        Thanks to savvy, irate homeowners, the industry has pushed for a better product. Icky water no longer has to sit for hours while the solids fall to the bottom. This old way also involved bugs chomping on sludge, which added to the stench.

        Now engineers have discovered something better: They can shoot the sewage directly into another process, involving “good bugs” that quickly reduce it to water, carbon dioxide and more bugs. Supposedly, this doesn't stink nearly as much.

        For the real scoop, I decided to call some real people in Houston. Mr. Joyce designed improvements to sewage plants there. Northern Kentucky will use similar technology.

        So, Texans, does your sewage stink?

        “There's no smell at all there today, and we're having a cold and windy day in Houston,” says Mary Creasy, a school bus driver and real estate agent. At my request, she visited the plant yesterday.

        Ms. Creasy lives nearby, and occasionally, she does smell something when driving past.

        But Jorge Coreas, who runs a car dealership one block south of the plant, says it stopped smelling more than six months ago.

        Before then, an odor did waft toward his business once or twice a month, he says.

        It wasn't enough to deter builders. Across the street are new homes starting at $160,000. Next door to the plant, construction has begun on a golf course and luxury dwellings.

        That's Houston for you. It's notorious for its lack of zoning. The same won't happen in Boone County. Or at least it shouldn't, if elected officials do their jobs.

        Karen Samples is Kentucky columnist for The Enquirer. Her column appears Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at 578-5584, or by e-mail at