If you’ve been in Hollister the past several days, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the unpleasant odor wafting throughout the city, particularly the west side.
It’s nothing particularly new, since the city for years has dealt with odor issues coming from the industrial waste pond during San Benito Foods’ canning season for about three months of the summer. But this time around, even city officials are baffled because measurements coming from the pond don’t indicate the wastewater should be causing the problem.
“As far as the odors go, our consultant Veolia is working on trying to figure out exactly what is going on because, according to all the chemistry and all the numbers, everything should be fine,” said Mike Chambless, who runs the city’s public works department, on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s obviously not fine, and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on. We’re working hard to figure out what’s going on and get it rectified so we don’t impact anybody going forward.”
City officials over three years ago opted for a sludge removal process to curtail the seemingly annual summer smell from the industrial pond, caused by low pH levels during the decomposing process for tomato waste at the industrial pond, located on Hollister’s west side. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez at the time pushed for a natural “floating islands” process, but a majority of council members preferred the sludge removal.
Velazquez on Monday explained that the city had compiled a “whole checklist” of barometers to examine in order to ensure the ponds wouldn’t cause the far-reaching stench. He said a few months before the cannery season starts, usually in July, the city goes through that checklist to “flush the system.”
“Then it finally hit again over this weekend, it seemed, or right before this weekend came around,” said Velazquez, referring to the sulfur smell. “I started smelling it — I think it was on Thursday or Friday.”
He clarified that it’s not human waste. Rather, it’s tomato waste causing the issue. The difference this time around when Velazquez drove around to survey the problem, however, is that the smell didn’t appear to be coming directly from the ponds. The mayor believes it has been originating in the storm drain pipeline on the way to the ponds and wafting its way up through manholes.
“The odors aren’t coming from the ponds,” he said. “I’ve been checking over and over with them (pond operators) to make sure the levels are correct. The readings are correct.”
He said the closer he got the ponds, the less of an issue he experienced with the smell.
“So what was going on in the past was the sludge level’s so high, as soon as they turned on the aerators, it was pulling up the sludge from below,” he said. “Now the problem seems to be somewhere between the cannery and the plant.”
And although city leaders remain uncertain about the specific cause of the smell, Velazquez said it’s undoubtedly from tomato waste as usual.
The mayor, meanwhile, acknowledged it’s time hold the cannery accountable for the problem. He said the problem usually lasts for three to five days at a time and then dissipates.
“Shall we keep putting up with it?” he said. “In my opinion, no. Do it right.”
He said with the latest smell issue, the Monterey Unified Air Pollution Control District was present in the city Monday monitoring the situation.
“The air quality board was here today,” he said Monday. “As I understand it, they come out to make sure they (San Benito Foods) are in their parameters and everything else.”
Chambless said Tuesday city leaders are frustrated just like citizens.
“We’re as frustrated as everybody else and we’re just trying to get it figured out,” he said.