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Sewer Abatement Progresses

Odor Abatement program will bring larger structure to Great Falls

The Washington Area Sewer Authority has plans for a venting project intended to abate odors, which will affect a portion of Great Falls. The area off River Park Drive is part of a larger, multimillion-dollar project to reduce offensive odors produced from gases in the septic system.

John Ulfelder has been monitoring the progress of WASA for the Great Falls Citizens Association. “On the Maryland side, people have been complaining about it for years and getting nowhere,” said Ulfelder. The problem is not as pronounced for Great Falls, but a few homes are impacted by the existing WASA structure and system. “People have told us there’s an existing vent down there owned by WASA on the main trunk line. At times, particularly in the warm weather, they get a strong smell,” Ulfelder said.

The structure is tucked into the woods along the Potomac River. It resembles a shed and has been there since Dulles Airport was developed. The entire line runs about 50 miles from Washington, D.C., well into Loudoun County and is called the “Potomac Interceptor.” Wastewater flows for the entire length of the system by gravity. And it’s a lot of water. WASA estimates 65 million gallons of wastewater per day flow through the line.

In Great Falls, portions of the Falcon Ridge subdivision and a few homes off Seneca Road are tied into the system. “Otherwise no one else is served” by the line, said Ulfelder.

Ulfelder and others at the GFCA have been expecting to hear from WASA later this month on when a public hearing would be called to gather input from the community. “They’ve been playing it pretty close to the vest lately,” said Ulfelder.

JOHN TRYPUS, with WASA, said, “Well, we’ve done most of the public meetings we are going to do. We had a public comment period and didn’t get too much from that. As of today, they have a finding of no significant impact [FONSI]. Basically [WASA] has approval.”

According to Trypus, a notice should be published in the federal registry in the next few weeks announcing the project development.

Up next for WASA is to draft a detailed document that will allow contractors to bid on the project. “Work will start in the fall of 2005. Things will be completed in the fall of 2007. As it stands, we’re already two years behind,” said Trypus.

Delays were caused because certain areas of the line, many on Canal Road, have significant slopes that make construction complicated. Ulfelder adds that other public relations issues may have contributed to the delay. “They were supposed to do it last spring, but they got caught up with the whole lead thing, and now all this stuff with negative press and their board,” Ulfelder said.

The project in Great Falls, according to Ulfelder, will deal with the one shed structure and possibly some relining of pipes that run through Great Falls. Essentially, the existing structure has passive vents that will be replaced with active vents filtering the air.

“They will replace it with another stone-like structure. This one will be larger, maybe three times larger. We made a number of suggestions so that it would fit in even though it’s bigger. It doesn’t seem it would have any direct impact on people in terms of vistas,” Ulfelder said.

“They are also talking about relining a section in Great Falls. They aren’t digging up the pipe. They will have machines that fit down in there to line it. That one we’ve heard about, but we have no details,” said Ulfelder of the roughly 1-mile section of pipe.

Sewer lines in Great Falls have been contentious issues that are often heavily debated at civic organizations. The overall feeling in Great Falls, and what Ulfelder credits for there not being widespread sewage hookup there, is that having access to sewage lines could increase housing density.

The Web site detailing the project, www.potomacinterceptor.com, states, “The long-term odor abatement program plan includes a combination of passive and active (forced-air) carbon treatment units for the control and removal of odorous compounds in the exhausting air from the Potomac Interceptor (PI). The goal of the long-term odor abatement program is to utilize a combination of active blower units, sealed vents and intake-only vents with passive carbon filters to effectively control and mitigate odor problems along a significant portion of the PI system.”

Trypus said, “In Great Falls specifically, we didn’t get a lot of complaints [about odor]. It was pretty deep, so there wasn’t much of a problem.”

The project will take several years and is estimated to cost $10 million to complete.