First cycle of La Jolla Cove odor abatement begins

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A worker with Blue Eagle Distribution sprays guano-eating, microbial foam on the rocks at La Jolla Cove early Monday morning, June 17.

By Pat Sherman

Workers were busy Monday morning spraying the rocks above La Jolla Cove with a microbial foam city officials believe will digest years of bird guano on the rocks, eliminating a stench that has nauseated Village residents and visitors for more than a year and a half.

Mayor Bob Filner announced on May 28 that the city had hired Blue Eagle Distribution to clean the bird waste from the rocks. At that time workers tested their product in both a liquid and a foam on a section of bird-excrement encruseted cliffs just north of La Jolla Cove — ultimately deciding that the foam was easlier to manage and less susceptible to runoff.

The Blue Eagle product contains seven, lab-cultured microbes that litterally feed on the bird waste, leaving only a chalky substance behind.

“As it goes away, part of the microbe action is it creates CO2 (carbon dioxide) and water, so we want to make sure there’s no runoff whatsoever,” said Blue Eagle’s Lance Rodgers, noting that his workers were monitoring how long it takes the foam to break down, which he said varries based on the sun and wind conditions.

Mayor Filner told the

La Jolla Light

during a brief visit to the site Monday morning that “within hours most of the smell will be gone and people can enjoy lunch again. If any of the nesting birds or seal lions get in the way, (the wokers) will be back in July.”

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A Blue Eagle worker delivers excrement-eating product to workers on the cliffs above La Jolla Cove.

For about 10 days, workers will spray the rocks, coming about three feet from the edge, the closest allowed per current permits and California Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

Keith Merkel, a consulting biologist hired by the city to oversee the work, said the remaining, three-foot-wide, guano coated- cliff edge shouldn’t be enough to sustain the stench.

“Odor is a matter of scale,” Merkel said. “If you go out to any shoreline you will smell the sea odors — the kelp rotting and the animals and the bird guano. The idea is to get it to where it smells like the ocean, and not like a septic tank.”

Workers will return at the end of July or early August to reapply the product to the same spots, and also to areas where the cormorants are now nesting, and workers are currently not allowed to spray.

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Blue Eagle workers prepare to apply foam on the cliffs. The city is spending $50,000 for the initial odor-eliminating treatment, which does not include the amount it is paying staff and a consultant on the project.

Precaution taken

The work was delayed for one week, while Blue Eagle created a batch of product without its trademark blue dye (as requested by the city).

“The contract also required them to go through safety training, working with the lifeguards to make sure they understood (how their) rope rigging worked,” said San Diego Park and Recreation Department spokesperson and Storm Water Department head, Bill Harris.

Harris said the city also spent days taking a biological inventory of the site, “taking notice of what the birds’ nesting patterns were."

Several hours into the job on Monday, Harris said the work was going well.

“We pledged not to disturb the animals,” he said. “You’re not seeing the gulls fly up and out of their nests.; you’re not hearing a lot of noise from the sea lions. They’d be upset if we were getting too close.”

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