More than 30 residents of the Sexton Cove neighborhood have petitioned the Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District to rectify a sewage odor emanating from a vacuum station at Mile Marker 106.
Some residents say they have complained about the smell for more than a year, but received only empty promises from the district.
Paul Christian, the district's chief communications officer, attributes the lingering problem to a large employee turnover and breakdown in communication. He added that the sewer district to some extent depends on residents to alert them.
"Odor is a hot point politically," he said. "It's a priority-one complaint."
The district, on multiple occasions, has had to take extra steps and added expense to address an odor problem at the main treatment plant.
The Sexton Cove problem, however, involves a neighborhood collection station that sends sewage to the plant for treatment.
Among a number of ways to fix the problem, the district has rush-ordered a carbon filter replacement, Christian said. When installed in the latter part of September, it should help offset the odor.
But he noted it can be tricky figuring out the problem.
"It's hard to say with these things."
Homeowners from Sexton Cove want action. Many showed up and spoke at last week's board meeting, and their complaints appeared to surprise the board.
"My house is worth a lot of money," Alicia McNenney said. "We can't walk outside."
McNenney said she has complained for months to the sewer district and was confused as to why none of the elected officials knew what she was talking about.
"It's horrible," she said. "We don't want to smell it again."
Board member Norman Higgins was taken aback that the problem was as serious as residents' comments indicated.
"We're going to get right on it," Higgins promised.
Chairman Robbie Majeska was irritated that it took residents speaking at a public meeting to find out about the problem.
"What we have here is a failure to communicate," Majeska told the staff.
McNenney said she feels as if the residents are going against a government machine to try to get their problem resolved.
"I am not going to stop until this is solved," McNenney said. "I am going on an uphill battle."
Another neighbor said the odor is intolerable.
"When you open a septic tank -- that's how our neighborhood smells," Ania Perez said. "They never did anything until we went to the meeting."
Perez said wasn't fair her asthmatic son had to deal with the odor.
"Mornings and late afternoons are the worst," she said. "It all depends on the winds."
Some neighbors have said walking their pets in the afternoon is a struggle.
Since the meeting, Perez said she was a little relieved the board took their concerns seriously. She said she had seen a couple of board members walking the area.
"Everyone was feeling happy," she said. "We feel happy they're working. We don't know if it's going to work or not."