Hays Hays residents and officials say their city smells, and they place most of the blame on Kansas State University, which has nearly 1,000 cattle at its research center.
Mayor Kent Steward said he first raised the issue of the bad smell in 2003 and is running out of patience with the research centers' efforts to cut the odor.
Steward said several sources contributed to Hays' smell, including the Hays Agricultural Research Center, the Fort Hays State University farm, the city's compost site and the wastewater treatment plant.
"(Kansas State) is not the only source of bad smell, but they're the worst," Steward told The Hays Daily News for a story Sunday. "Hays stinks, and Hays needs to quit stinking. This isn't complicated. The solution may be complicated, but the problem is real simple."
Hays City Mercantile co-owner Sunell Koerner said complaints from her customers, as well as her concerns for local business, prompted her to complain to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas State University and the Kansas Animal Health Department.
"If anything, I think the smell has gotten a lot worse instead of better through the years," she said.
But Pat Coyne, head of the Kansas State University Western Kansas Agricultural Research Centers, said the facility followed all state and federal regulations. He said with less than 1,000 cattle in nearly 40 pens, the cattle density was half what it would be in a commercial lot.
Coyne said research at the facility was vital to Kansas beef producers, adding $15 to $20 per head of cattle. He said the center benefited the local economy by employing about 40 people and spending an estimated $1.5 million a year in Ellis County.
Sharon Watson, communications director for Kansas Department of Health and Environment, confirmed that the research center was in compliance with all regulations. But she said KDHE has asked Kansas State to propose changes to reduce the odor.
Watson said Kansas State was cooperating, and there was no timeline for solving the smell problem.
That's not good enough for City Manager Randy Gustafson.
"We're going to get into a timeline if nothing is heard within a month," he said.
Coyne said three options he envisions to reduce the smell would each cost about $2 million.
The first option is to cover the pens, which are spread over more than eight acres, with a hard surface such as concrete.
The second option is relocation.
Coyne's third possibility involves building a shelter over the existing pens to keep water from seeping to the ground and creating an odor.
Steward offers a fourth option: stopping the cattle operation. He suggested the cattle could be moved to Kansas State's research center at Garden City, where the lot is downwind from the city.
A consultant has suggested treating the research facility's waste along with the city's wastewater treatment and compost pile.
Hays would be the first place in the state to try a digester, and Watson said the state had no regulations for such an operation.
"KDHE needs to get aggressive about this," Steward said. "We shouldn't have to drag them kicking and screaming into helping us get this going. They should be eager to use this as a learning experience and assist the city of Hays because this is a very progressive thing to do."
Although some solutions involve city facilities, Gustafson said he thought the research facility should pay to clean up the smell.
"I would have a rough time recommending to the city commission that we spend city funds to stop a problem that is created by a state agency," he said.
Steward said the smell may be a health issue.
"When you smell something, you're ingesting it," he said. "I strongly suspect this is a health hazard, not just an annoyance."