Foul odor has Tosans asking, 'What's that smell?'

Published on: 2/29/2012

Something's rotten in the city of Wauwatosa.

Resident Charles Jagemann has on a number of occasions smelled a putrid odor while standing in his front yard or while patronizing the shops along Mayfair Road between Watertown Plank Road and North Avenue. He and his wife have tried to figure out how best to describe the scent.

"She says like overly sweet poop, and I would say the same, but more discreetly, such as, like decomposing plant matter with a slightly sweet sewer smell," Jagemann said.

Actually, the smell is from the composting of leaves that were picked up last fall, said Bill Porter, city public works director. "I have had a number of this type of complaints this winter."

Porter, who has worked for Wauwatosa for about a year, was told by some of his longtime employees that the odor is unusual.

Jagemann said it's an embarrassment to the community, especially since the smell has come and gone in waves for months, he said.

"The stink, I believe, leaves shoppers at Mayfair Mall and surrounding restaurants and venues thinking 'What is going on in Wauwatosa?' " he said. "These are high-traffic areas we need to be sensitive to."

Public Works staff met with their yard waste collector last week to get some answers.

"The very mild winter was part of the reason," Porter said. "Usually the material is colder and not so apt to throw off odor."

But the location of the compost piles may have been a stronger contributor.

"The primary reason seemed to be that they were composting in a different part of the landfill, on a higher elevation where the winds are more prevalent, and the area is wetter," Porter said.

The yard waste collector has since moved a pile offsite and there have been no complaints since, the public works director said.