Terry Lewis was offended long before his dinner guests left without finishing their meal.
The suffocating stench of decaying garbage from the Fighting Creek Landfill - a few thousand yards behind his home - had been making Lewis and his family nauseous for weeks. When his mealtime visitors bolted early, he understood.
“They excused themselves and said they just couldn’t take it anymore,” Lewis said. “Who could blame them?”
Certainly not Steve Wulf, Kootenai County’s solid waste director, who is in charge of the landfill 13 miles south of Coeur d’Alene. His workers grew painfully aware of the putrid odor over the holidays - long before complaints started rolling in.
“It was bad, really bad,” Wulf said.
Buried, 2-year-old garbage at the site was decomposing and producing a methane-based gas that leaked through the mound of garbage.
The biological process was expected, but Wulf had hoped it would wait until workers had installed all the equipment to deal with it. Such decomposition usually takes place 600 to 900 days after trash is first dumped.
A group of about 40 area residents told Wulf Tuesday they had been promised the landfill would be odor-free.
Residents throughout the Rockford Bay area complained the smell was so strong it stuck to their clothes, burned their eyes and clung to the backs of their throats.
“We’re embarrassed and we’re sorry,” Wulf told the group. “But we’re taking care of it.”
Late last week, workers plugged holes in the garbage with clay. Pressure forced most of the fetid gases through a pipeline to a small silo where it is odorlessly burned.
“It’s definitely better than it was,” said Bob Lewis, who lives next to his son Terry. “But my wife said it was still stinking in here today.”
Wulf said the problem is now 90 percent resolved. Installation of electrical equipment - expected today or Monday - should solve the problem, he said. An electric fan will draw the remaining gases into the pipeline and to the burner, he said.
“I believe he’ll try his best,” Terry Lewis said. “Whether or not it works, we’ll wait and see.”