Officials meet over Smarter Fuel smell

Published 8:22 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2012

More than 50 residents of south Demopolis gathered in Rooster Hall last night to hear what could and would be done to abate a strong order that they claim regularly wafts through their neighborhoods.

The citizens claim the smell is a by-product of the production process at Smarter Fuel – a recycling facility that converts catfish oils into a replacement for heating fuel.

“I get out of the shower in the morning and the stuff is in my home, it’s on my furniture, it’s in my clothes,” said Don Vail, who lives and works not far from the plant. “You can’t get away from it.”

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The vast majority of the crowd shared Vail’s accounts.

“I have kids,” Kimberly Lomax said as she described her family’s attempts to avoid the smell outside. “We have a little game. We run into the house as quickly as we can while holding our breath.”

Marengo County Public Health Environmentalist Daniel Wysmulek, who was at the meeting at Mayor Mike Grayson’s request, said there was little his agency could do about the odor since they do not monitor air quality.

“While it’s a nuisance, smell is not a public health concern as far as my regulatory body is concerned,” he said.

Jim Killian, Vice President of Development for Smarter Fuels, said his company was working hard to mitigate the odor, adding that they had already spent “several hundred thousand dollars” on upgrades and other changes and would continue to work to improve the situation when complaints were made.

Denny Lewis said he’s kept a list dating back to Jan. 7, documenting the day and time the smell invades his home. However, he did note that he’s not smelled not since Jan. 31.

“Right now, I can’t complain,” he said, “but before it went away, my home was almost uninhabitable. You couldn’t cook out. You couldn’t go outside. It was terrible.”

Many in the crowd conceded that the smell hasn’t been as strong the past two weeks during the day, but claim it is just as bad as ever at night and on some weekends.

While the majority of the crowd were intent on having the smell gone from their homes, they were equally sensitive to the potential loss of upwards of 20 jobs in the process.

“Nobody here hates you,” Tommy Lewis told Killian, who had been a lightning rod for criticism for the duration of the meeting. “We’re frustrated, but we don’t hate you.”

No one’s asking you to shut the plant down. Everybody needs a job,” said James Carpenter. “Remember the (cement plant) 40 year ago? They had a problem with the smell and they fixed it. This can be fixed too.”

In the meantime, city attorney Bill Poole asked those in attendance to fill out a form documenting their complaints as the city builds a case to potentially take legal actions against Smarter Fuel if they cannot permanently resolve the smell issue.