Friday, July 24, 2009

Hotline Receives 20 Calls In 30 Days

The city of Des Moines set up an odor hotline years ago to deal with unpleasant odors over the city, but it is working?

Some residents and even out-of-towners are questioning what can be done.

KCCI's Cynthia Fodor talked with tourists from Utah taking in the sights of downtown Des Moines on Thursday who said something stinks in Des Moines. Residents also had complaints about a smell Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

Des Moines resident Carolyn Mata has lived on the east side of town for 36 years.

"Sometimes, it's horribly strong," said Mata. "It's gotten worse, gotten worse again."

She said years ago, after neighbors protested the smell from the National By Products plant on SE 18th Street, the city enacted an odor ordinance and set up a hotline to catalog complaints.

"Generally speaking we don't respond unless the hotline gets 10 calls in a 24 hours period," said Ben Bishop, of the city of Des Moines's Neighborhood Inspection Division.

Bishop said the hotline received 20 calls in 30 days, a service the city pays for 24/7 whether it's used or not.

"Is there a possibility the hotline is a waste of money, yes. I've been wondering for years if this is money well spent or not," said Bishop.

Complaints might be few because some callers can't get through on the hotline. KCCI's Cynthia Fodor called 15 times on Thursday morning and was put on hold and hung up on each time.

"If they're not answering the phone, we'll investigate that," said Bishop.

When an operator did answer, Fodor was asked a series of questions about what was being smelled.

"Can you describe the smell? Is it chemical, raw meat or dead animal?" asked the odor hotline operator.

Residents that KCCI talked to said the city needs a better system to not only monitor, but eliminate the bad smells.

Some told us they were frustrated that their "voice falls on deaf ears, nobody listens."

City officials said the National By Products plant is owned by Darling International, which installed air scrubbers that do an adequate job of removing smells leaving the plant, unless there is a spill.

KCCI called the company to get comment on this story, but our calls were not returned.

The odor hotline is 515-244-0336.

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