The stench that hangs over Quail Lane is so powerful at times that people stay indoors, hoping to escape the nauseating odor that causes some of them to feel queasy.
Cookouts, jogs through the neighborhood, tennis games at a community racquet club — even raking leaves — are less appealing with the smell of raw sewage in the air, say residents of the area near Trenholm Road. Last month, the odor soured a Halloween party at the club, according to emails from residents to a local lawyer.
Children ask “‘What is that smell? That is gross,’” neighborhood resident Ramsay Bokinsky said in an interview Monday with The State newspaper. “I don’t think it is acceptable that there is a constant sewage smell in the middle of a residential community.’’
The source of the odor appears to be the East Richland County Public Service District. After the utility finished an $8 million improvement project at a sewage pump station last spring, neighbors said they began to notice the consistent and pervasive stink. Not only does it curtail outdoor activities, but some residents say they won’t open windows or French doors.
People are so upset that they recently filed a legal notice threatening to sue East Richland by January if the utility doesn’t stop the odor that many worry could affect their property values.
The area of concern is on the north shore of Little Lake Katherine, a scenic residential waterway surrounded by high-end homes off Trenholm Road. The average home price in the area is just under $500,000, Richland County property records show.
Bert Louthian, a Columbia lawyer who owns a home in the area, said the past year has been particularly difficult for neighbors because many, including himself, are recovering from a historic flood in 2015.
Louthian and others have had to rebuild homes wiped out during the historic deluge in October 2015. Now, for those who have chosen to reinvest in the community, sewage odors are a concern, he said.
“We are just fed up,’’said Louthian, who is among three lawyers who filed the notice with East Richland saying they would sue if things are not resolved by early 2017. The lawsuit would be filed under a federal law governing hazardous waste.
The East Richland pump station propels about 10 million gallons of sewage each day from the northeastern part of the county to the utility’s treatment plant off Bluff Road in southeastern Richland County.
The facility is composed of three immaculate-looking main buildings with green roofs, as well as pipes and mechanisms to move the sewage toward the plant. Surrounded by a fence, the station lies between Gills Creek and the Quail Lane Swim and Racquet Club. No trespassing signs are posted on the fence.
Neighbors say the odor from the plant is consistent, but is sometimes worse at night than earlier in the day. A sewage odor was evident along Quail Lane about mid-afternoon Monday, as well as on nearby Heath Hill Road. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control recently became aware of the problem and is looking into the matter, agency spokesman Robert Yanity said in an email.
Scott Elliott, an attorney representing East Richland, said a pump station has existed at the site since the early 1960s. That was years before some homes were built in the area. He also said the work on the pump station was well-intended. East Richland wanted to add three backup pumps in case the station ever loses electricity. That would prevent sewage from spilling during a flood. The 2015 flood knocked out the station for a week.
But Elliott said the utility doesn’t deny that odor is a problem and the district is trying to determine the exact cause so the issue can be resolved.
Since the lawsuit notice was sent to the utility last month, officials have contacted two consultants about helping East Richland get to the bottom of the problem. That includes an odor expert from Atlanta, he said. Elliott said the threat to sue got the attention of East Richland’s governing board, or commission. Before that, he said, members did not realize the extent of the odor complaints.
“We now are aware that there is an odor that is sort of wafting off the property,’’ Elliott said Monday. “The commission is concerned that it be a good neighbor — and the district wants to get this matter resolved.’’
Both he and Louthian said they believe the problem can be resolved.
Aaron Dupree, who lives on Woodlake Drive, said he hopes the air will be fresher in the community when he moves back into the home he is rebuilding in about three weeks. Dupree, whose home was all but destroyed in the 2015 flood, said the recent Halloween party his family attended at the Quail Lane Swim and Racquet Club underscored the need to resolve the problem.
“That night of Halloween, when my wife and I got out of the car, we said ‘Man, that is one intense smell,’” Dupree said. “A lot of people talked about that all Halloween night.”