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Alley garbage stench annoys downtown SC residents

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Herman Guehr and his wife keep a neat, trim house in South Charleston, with an impeccably manicured backyard.

If only he could do something about the smell from the trash bins across the alley.

"The air conditioner vents are turned off," said Guehr on a recent humid afternoon, with the odor from the trash wafting through the neighborhood. "[The smell] goes in the house if you don't."

Guehr has lived in his Sixth Avenue home for 35 years. Up and down the alley behind his home, restaurants put their trash in a series of bins, which South Charleston city crews empty almost every day.

The trash doesn't always stink, but when it does, the odor can be nearly overpowering, Guehr said. He said food rots in the heat, and some of it leaches out onto the alley.

He collected some of the leachate in a pill bottle he keeps sealed in a plastic bag in case health officials need to test it.

"If you open this up and smell it, you might pass out," Guehr said.

On the other side of the alley, Seventh Avenue is home to several restaurants and an Asian supermarket, all of which throw away food.

Anita Ray, environmental health director for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said the messy garbage bins are not the fault of any particular restaurant.

"You're going to have odors because there are so many restaurants there," Ray said.

She said trash bins behind restaurants will often smell bad, especially in hot weather. "We don't ordinarily have residential areas behind these businesses," she said.

Ray said health officials get periodic complaints about the bins behind Seventh Avenue. She said messy containers are a recurring problem in the area.

When health officials get a complaint, Ray said, they will talk with the restaurant owners, who will pay closer attention to the trash bins for a while. Then they'll slack off, and complaints will start again.

But, she said, "It's a balancing act. Those businesses have a right to be there."

Guehr said he doesn't have a problem with the restaurants themselves, just the trash and the smell.

South Charleston city officials say there is only so much they can do about the problem.

Public Works Director Gerald Burgy said city crews empty the bins five days a week. When someone complains, they wash out the bins and hose down the alley.

"We try so hard not to allow [the odors] to happen," Burgy said. "We were down there one day last week to wash the alley and the Dumpster."

When a complaint comes in about messy trash bins, Burgy said, city crews respond within an hour or two to clean up the mess.

"We try to do the best we can for him," he said of Guehr. "If he calls us, we go and clean it up."

Guehr said he and his wife have been complaining about the bins since 2009. "We might just have to live with it," he said.

"If it doesn't kill the garbage workers, it won't kill us, I guess. They're the ones who have to pick it up."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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