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Something’s Rotten on Lower Main Street


Anyone who has taken the pedestrian walkway parallel to Lower Main Street already knows what this post about: that awful stench rising from the ground. It smells like rotten eggs. Boiled in vomit. In which rotting skunk carcasses are marinating.

Okay so maybe it’s not that bad, but there’s a conspicuous lack of foot traffic near the two spots where the “fragrance,” as city spokeswoman Phyllis Robinson playfully put it, is strongest: on the stairs by the Easy Street Bakery & Coffee Shop, and where the walkway turns left and intersects with Lower Main. Stand at one of these spots for a minute and you’re sure to see someone wrinkle their face, hold their nose, or accuse their companion of inadequate self-control.

Curious about where, exactly, the stench originates from—this is the first year I’ve smelled it—I called up Robinson, who immediately assured me that the city has done “extensive testing in the area” and that the odor isn’t toxic. “They’ve done samples to confirm it’s not sewage,” she said, noting that the city’s environmental coordinator has investigated the problem. (I take off on Sunday, so I’ll leave it up to the Park Record to confirm as much.)

The smell, said Robinson, is coming from groundwater—the runoff from melting snow, for instance—that’s sitting near the surface, unable to drain. As for why it’s not draining: “There’s been a lot of new development in that area in the last several years, and the water is staying high and isn’t able to drain as fast it would…. As the amount of impermeable surface increases, it makes it harder.”

In other words, all of that new construction has taken up land that previously had absorbed the groundwater. Now the water is sitting there, just under the surface, festering like a stagnant pond.

“It’s unfortunate, it’s embarrassing,” said Robinson, “and this is the time of the year we wish that it weren’t going on.”

But maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on the city about it. Rotten though the odor is, it’s still preferable to a bar full of dudes wearing Axe.