FORT SMITH, Ark. — Fort Smith residents could soon again experience a terrible smell looming throughout the city, but what is the cause of it this time?
According to Karen Santos with the City of Fort Smith, the smell will come from the waste of natural foods called “organic residuals.”
Poultry, meat and food processing plants and livestock and pet nutrition product manufacturers are some of the largest employers in Fort Smith, contributing significantly to the local economy.
But along with preparing natural foods comes natural waste.
Specially-licensed companies like Denali Water Solutions, based in Russellville, collect the organic residuals, transport them to a site, and leave them to age in a lagoon.
This natural recycling process composts the residuals into organic fertilizer. The process is overseen and permitted by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). When the lagoon reaches capacity and the residuals have aged, the lagoon is emptied.
“We try to do clean-out in the winter months,” said Mark Fisher, area manager for Denali. “Cold, dry, winter weather conditions are most conducive to our ‘dewatering’ process, and it reduces odor. And, fewer people are outside for long periods in the colder months. That helps reduce the intrusion and inconvenience to populations nearby.”
The company is scheduled to start cleaning out a lagoon in the Kibler Bottoms some time next week.
Fisher said crews will work seven days a week, weather permitting, to complete the job as quickly as possible.
Removing the organic residuals and dewatering them involves special equipment and requires about three weeks of good, dry weather. The remainder, after the aging and dewatering processes are completed, is dark, rich, natural, organic fertilizer. Denali, again using special equipment designed for the task, applies the fertilizer to nearby farmland, returning valuable nutrients to the soil.
“When we get to the application phase,” Fisher said. “We’ll be using an ‘injection method,’ where we plow and apply the fertilizer beneath the surface of the topsoil, covering it up. That will hold down the offending odor and, we hope, reduce public complaints.”
“This is a natural process. It’s green. It’s local and regional business. Part of the lifeblood of the Arkansas economy. And, it’s being good stewards of the land,” said City Administrator Carl E. Geffken. “Dealing with a smell for a little while in January and February is a reality of reaping the rewards of having these nation-leading agricultural businesses based and operating right here in the River Valley, pumping money into our economy.”
A year ago when a lagoon was being cleaned out and closed, there was a strong smell. When Fort Smith residents began to call City Hall, the City reached out to Denali. Denali redoubled its efforts, working hand-in-hand with Mayor George B. McGill and City Administrator Geffken, performing clean-out tasks only when the wind would not blow toward Fort Smith.
This year, Denali approached City Administration in early December, explaining that the lagoon closed last year had to be reopened and used during the record Arkansas River flooding of late May/early-mid June 2019 when flooded areas made roads to alternative sites inaccessible. This early notification gave the City time to coordinate with community representatives and leaders and limit large outdoor activities during the planned work period.
If weather cooperates and there are few “rain out” days, the lagoon clean-out could be completed by the middle or end of February.
Denali Water Solutions and City Administration will continue to work together closely to keep residents informed.
Last year, the company issued an apology for the pungent smell that wafted through the area.