A dispute between residents of a neighborhood on the southeast side of town and a nearby pig farm over the stench of manure will not go away any time soon.
Last summer, after the neighbors complained that the odor was so strong they couldn't use their backyards, officials began investigating Krochmal Farm, forcing operators to revamp their storage, treatment, and use of manure.
The overhaul helped, but officials say they want to wait until next summer to see whether the smell is gone for good. The winter cold may mask any remaining problems, so the farm will remain under scrutiny, the officials say.
"The last time I was there, which was the end of November, things seemed to be looking really well," said Lou-Ann Clement, the town's health director, who says she visits regularly. "We're continuing to monitor it."
But David Powers, who lives nearby in a new development, said he believes officials could do more, particularly with respect to safeguards against possible contamination of local wetlands, streams, and aquifers.
Powers created a website called tewksburyodor.org to mobilize others bothered by the smell. In a single week, he said, he collected more than 300 signatures from like-minded residents looking for relief.
Powers said his goal is not to close down the farm, or its petting zoo, pumpkin festivals, and haunted hayrides: "I'm certainly not an antifarm person."
Instead, he said, he wants to be able to enjoy outdoor activities with his family on his own property without the pervasive odor. He acknowledged it has diminished since the summer, but he fears its return.
"I'm doing this because it's wrecking my family's quality of life in summer, fall, and spring," he said. "Thank God it's winter."
John Cave and his family, who have owned and managed the farm for at least two generations, could not be reached for comment.
The uneasy relationship between the farm, off South Street, and its newly arrived neighbors underscores the kind of tension often resulting when development bumps up against rural backlands.
Krochmal Farm, which straddles the Wilmington border, began operating in the 1960s, according to Ralph McHatton, the Board of Health chairman.
The farm is home to pigs and horses. A couple of llamas raised their heads curiously during a recent drive by the farm, much of which cannot be seen from the road. McHatton said the number of pigs on the farm and its acreage now are not publicly known, because Homeland Security regulations prevent release of information about the size and extent of potential food sources.
The farm began running into difficulties after a luxury housing development went up nearby several years ago - leaving the pigs and other livestock a backyard away from new residents. In the past few years, what neighbors once described as "normal farm odor" turned into a stench, said David Gay, a selectman who lives near the farm.
"When the wind's blowing in the right direction, I can smell it," Gay said. "I hadn't noticed it except in the past year and a half or two."
The odor appeared to have several causes. Three years ago, the farm owners built a new feeding shelter with slatted floors and a holding tank underneath for manure, according to a report by Clement. When the level of the manure got too high, the odor wafted farther than before.
Clement's report said the smell intensified after the farmers added an organic compound that breaks down and liquefies the manure, which they spread on their fields as fertilizer.
Critics are also worried about possible health menaces from the manure, such as E. coli and hepatitis infections and respiratory diseases, particularly pediatric asthma, as well as discharges into the water supply.
In October, after neighbors complained to the town, the Board of Health held an informational hearing that drew about 50 people. The board agreed to ask the state departments of Public Health and Agricultural Resources to inspect the farm. Representatives from the agencies visited the farm in November.
In a report issued last month, state public health officials said the farm poses no threat for E. coli or hepatitis, and that pediatric asthma at the two schools closest to it - Louise Davy Trahan and John W. Wynn - "was lower than statewide prevalence."
Agricultural Resource officials have yet to issue their report.
"We will be assessing whether the farm is following acceptable agricultural practices," said Lisa Capone, an agency spokeswoman. She said the report should be completed by the end of the year. Capone said an assessment of water resources will be included in the report.
Locally, the building inspector was asked to check whether the farm had obtained a permit for its three-year-old pig shelter. And the town's conservation agent agreed to determine whether water runoff from the farm was reaching adjacent wetlands.
Responding to the complaints, farm owners stopped using the organic compound, monitored the level of the holding tank more closely, and plowed the manure under field surfaces more quickly, Clement said.
Farm owners are currently working with the town to obtain appropriate permits for the pig shelter, said Richard Colantuoni, building commissioner. The owners have also agreed to build a berm to stop water from running off into wetlands, Clement said.
A resident advisory group has been formed to review progress and work with the farmers on long-term solutions. Clement said she believes the measures should protect residents.
Connie Paige can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.