An open sewage basin in southwest Lawrence would relieve pressure on lines across town, but it occasionally could foul the air in the Four Seasons area.
City officials are thinking about building a hole in the ground large enough to hold 4 million gallons of overflow sewage less than 600 yards from homes in southwestern Lawrence.
The $5.5 million project is included in the city's wastewater master plan, a $70.7 million list of projects to help Lawrence's toilets, sinks and washing machines drain toward the city's treatment plant without complications.
But neighbors near the planned sewer pool -- known as a "flow equalization basin" -- have other concerns on their minds, including decreased property values and, yes, the dreaded smell of sewage.
"I think it sounds disgusting," said Rhonda Hill, who lives at 2516 Morningside Ct., just north of the proposed site. "I don't like it at all. That just disgusts me, knowing that there's going to be an open sewage thing back there.
"If I can't see it, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. It's just the thought of having an open pit with sewage in it. It's disgusting."
But it's reality.
Planning for growth
The project, which would be south of the Four Seasons development, about a quarter mile west of Kasold Drive and south of Winterbrook Drive, is among the top priorities recommended by the city's water and wastewater consultant, Black & Veatch, in a report presented to Lawrence city commissioners last month.
The plan is by no means final. Commissioners have not approved spending any money included in the plan, although there is little doubt the proposed projects must be completed to keep up with the city's westward growth and increased pressure on sewer lines through East Lawrence.
"My assumption is that we will have to do everything in that plan at some point in time," City Manager Mike Wildgen said.
Black & Veatch recommend designing the basin in 1996 and building it in 1997 and 1998.
"I'm sure they've gotta do something," said Duane Gunn, 2528 Morningside Dr. "The city's growing at a rapid rate."
Gunn's home of five years sits at the cusp of development, bordering two unfinished roads and within eyeshot of the proposed basin site.
"I might consider moving," he said, taking a break from lawnmowing Friday afternoon. "If it's going to put a stench in the air, it won't be good."
Oooh, that smell
Keeping sewage smells to a minimum -- along with ensuring site security -- would be among the top priorities for the project's designers, said Dave Wagner, the city's wastewater treatment superintendent.
Large aerators would circulate sewage before allowing it into the basin, keeping it fresh and relatively free from becoming anaerobic, which in turn releases the hydrogen-sulfide gasses that reek of rotten eggs.
Other safeguards, such as installing portable floating aerators -- "like a 60-horsepower Cuisinart" -- could further reduce the chances of stenches escaping, he said.
Besides, the basin likely would fill up only once or twice a year, Wagner said. It would be designed to protect homes and businesses across town from sewage backups during periods of heavy rain by releasing pressure on underground pipes until the rains subsided.
The overflow basin at the wastewater treatment plant in East Lawrence was full last week, and even after five days in place, visitors to the site couldn't sniff out a scent from the 4.5 million gallons of sewage exposed to the open air.
The problem, Wagner said, comes after the basin drains. A coating of solid material -- residuals from toilets, sinks and drains across town -- remains on the 4-inch-think concrete shell until city crews can rinse it off with fire hoses.
The process typically takes a day or two and has drawn odor complaints from across the river in North Lawrence. The same would hold true in the Four Seasons area.
"Obviously, the concern is smell," Wagner said. "We don't want to ignore the reality. It is sewage."
Site within floodplain
The basin would be adjacent to another overflow basin, an underground and covered concrete box capable of holding 1.25 million gallons. The open basin, with a capacity of 4 million gallons, would be enough to hold the water of eight Municipal Pools.
To help safeguard against odor problems, the pool would cover about 5 acres of a 15- to 20-acre "buffer" site, most of which is not developable. The Douglas County-owned land is in a floodplain, part of which is tabbed for a new tower for KLWN radio. City and county officials have discussed setting aside land for the basin, but no formal deal has been reached.
County Administrator Craig Weinaug said the land held few possible uses other than farmland or possibly a park.
Hill, who's lived near the county land for eight years, said she liked the park option but understood the need for public facilities.
Then again, she grew up within nose range of a sewage creek in Baldwin, and the awful smell still resonates in her memory.
"If they decide to put it out there, there's really nothing I can do about it," she said, looking out the window toward the site. "If it were my decision, I wouldn't put it there."