NEWBURYPORT — An odd smell lingered over a significant portion of Newburyport yesterday morning, and a probe by the city’s health director discovered the unusual cause.
The smell — variously described as a burning or garbage-like stench — was caused by power-washing boats at a local marina, according to Bob Bracey, director of health services. As complaints about the smell percolated into City Hall and elsewhere yesterday morning, Mayor Donna Holaday dispatched Bracey to track it down.
Bracey walked all along the downtown waterfront, inspected Dumpsters, and walked part of the rail trail, using his nose as a guide. He tracked the smell to Hilton’s boatyard, located about halfway between Michael’s Harborside restaurant and the Black Cow restaurant.
Bracey said the health department issued an order to the marina to neutralize the smell and to comply with environmental protection laws regarding proper methods of power-washing, paint scraping, and the proper disposal of power-washing water. The city considered the incident to be a public nuisance.
Many boats are being removed from the water this week, as boaters prepare for Hurricane Sandy. Boats that stay in the water throughout the summer normally have their hulls power-washed or scraped as soon as they are removed from the water. Boats accumulate a variety of growths on their hulls — such as barnacles and seaweed — that should be removed before the boat goes into winter storage. Otherwise, the material dries onto the hull and can become very difficult to get off. If left on, the growths cause long-term damage to the hull and make the boat more sluggish in the water.
Bracey said the health department, harbormaster and sewer department will work together to routinely inspect the city’s marinas, and will work with them to ensure that they are following environmental regulations.
The smell fueled much speculation across the city. Some believed that a whale carcass was floating in the river and caused the stench, or that the smell was emanating from the Salisbury marshes.
The stink caused by a whale carcass did make the news this week, but it was some 15 or so miles southeast of Newburyport. A finback whale carcass washed up on the rocky shoreline of Rockport, and was left in place. The 54-foot whale, which has become quite a tourist attraction, is emitting a powerful stench. Locals are hoping that Hurricane Sandy washes it out to sea.