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Regional & National

Foul columnist? Chattanooga residents take exception to New Yorker's odor complaint

August 4th, 2011 4:19 pm by Staff Report

CHATTANOOGA (AP) — A New York auto writer's description of an "incredible stench" in downtown Chattanooga has some Chattanoogans suggesting he open his windows at home.

Automobile Magazine's New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman in a column wrote that the smell "makes recommending the city as a vacation destination, or as a place to locate your heavy industry, problematic."

Kitman was in Chattanooga recently to test drive the new Volkswagen plant's 2012 Passat.

"One thing's certain: it's definitely not time for VW to launch its factory-delivery program here," Kitman wrote in a September issue column.

The city Wednesday blamed hot weather, dry conditions and aging sewer infrastructure for the occasional odor that officials try to mask by putting large deodorant blocks in manholes.

Bill Mish, the general manager of Doubletree Hotel in downtown Chattanooga, took exception to the New Yorker's column and told the Chattanooga Times Free Press (http://bit.ly/p5R9R4 ) "not everybody likes the smell of corned beef wafting through the air 24-7."

"Show me a city that doesn't smell," Mish said. "My main thought is the guy probably smelled fresh air the first time and didn't realize what he was smelling."

About one-fourth of Kitman's column in the magazine was dedicated to the odor issue rather than the Passat.

"O death, where is thy sting?" he wrote. "I know where your stink is."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Kitman said he tried in a lighthearted way to raise the odor issue.

"I did have an otherwise good experience," he said. "The VW plant is great. Air quality is poor, and I say that, as an expert in poor air quality for a long time, I've never experienced that."

Jerry Stewart, the city's director of waste resources, said the problem is Chattanooga's storm and sanitary sewers lines are combined. When it's dry, there's nothing to flush out the solids.

"Anyplace we get complaints, we tend to deal with it," Stewart said.

He said flushing out the sewers on a regular basis helps, but gets expensive.

Richard Beeland, a spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, said "Chattanooga has spent millions of dollars correcting the myriad issues that are associated with a combined sewer system that dates to the early 1900s." He said "aging infrastructure presents unique challenges for every American city."

Kitman's writing is not the first time a Tennessee city has been insulted by out-of-town journalists. While Knoxville was preparing for the 1982 World's Fair, The Wall Street Journal described it as a "scruffy little city" on the banks of the Tennessee River. Some Knoxville residents still use the phrase as a tongue-in-cheek description of their hometown.

Chattanooga had similar experience after it was labeled the most polluted city in America when the Clean Air Act took effect in 1970. The city went on to become a model of how to revitalize a downtown and the environment.

J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's vice president of marketing, said the city has attracted millions of visitors and recruited billions of dollars' worth of corporate investment.

"One of the symptoms of success is having detractors," he said.

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Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com

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