Lynda and Paul Paquette built their dream business together in Seward over the past 15 years.
Their bed-and-breakfast cabins, located on a property known as Angels Rest, boast stunning panoramic views.
“I just felt if angels went on vacation this is where they came,” Lynda said.
But about 400 feet behind their slice of heaven, just beyond a thicket of trees, there is the source of a foul nightmare they say is bad for business.
“The smell is just sickening,” Paquette said.
Lowell Point Wastewater Treatment Facility is where “all the domestic sewage from the community comes,” said W.C. Casey, public works director for the City of Seward.
The sewage lagoon was built more than 30 years ago in Lowell Point, but only in the past couple years have residents started to complain about the odor.
“For many years, it was totally innocuous,” said Michael Miller, whose mother sold to Seward the property on which the lagoon now sits. “People didn’t even know it was there. People would ask us what kind of fish they would catch at the hatchery up the road.”
“Brown trout," Miller would joke.
Miller also owns Miller’s Landing, an outdoor recreation business that includes a campground, water taxi and cabin rentals.
“We worked very hard for 32 years building this business to what it is today,” said Miller, who runs the business with his wife and sons.
His niece, Jamie Walker, also works at Miller’s Landing. She has lived in the Seward area for about 20 years.
“The smell is so bad, and I happen to live right next to it, so I know it makes my eyes water when I come out of my cabin,” Walker said.
Over the past year, Lowell Point residents and business owners filed nearly 2,500 complaints with the state over what they call the city’s mismanagement of the facility.
“I think the city's dropped the ball on this,” Miller said.
In the summer of 2013, state environmental conservation officers found the City of Seward to be in noncompliance.
That July, when residents say the smell was at its worst, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation found the lagoon had more than double the fecal coliform it is permitted to have.
Casey said events like the Mount Marathon race bring more people to Seward and more waste into the lagoon.
“We love our summer visitors, and that's quite a load in the summer time for us,” said Casey, adding that the smell comes from a lack of air circulation in the lagoon over the past few years.
“The air feeds the bugs, which in turn eat the sewage,” said Casey. “The air lines are leaking back in the ground here.”
Casey said he suspects that a cracked rubber casing in the pipes could also be causing the problem.
There is also a buildup of “sludge,” which is composed of human waste, Casey said. The last time the sludge was removed from the pond was in 1992, he said.
The city formed a plan, mandated by the state earlier this spring, and is now looking for a company that can do the work this fall for $3 million.
City Manager Jim Hunt said Seward received bids Monday ranging from $3.8 million to $6 million.
Lowell Point business owners fear “it’s too little, too late,” said Walker. The smell has already affected their bottom lines.
“On certain days, the smell just permeates the area and customers who have been coming here for years say they’re not coming back due to that smell,” Walker said. “It’s too bad because we’re going to have to do a lot of damage control to get our customers back.”
Paquette’s Angels Rest cabins cost as much as $250 a night.
“We did have a pretty serious complaint the other night from people in this cabin that they wanted to sit out and drink their wine and barbecue around the campfire, and they couldn’t,” Paquette said. “So we ended up having to give them money back.”
Business owners hope next summer will be better.
Walker said she tells customers who complain: “’Please come back. We won't smell this bad next year.’”