Darlene Mann must also reimburse residents for expenses related to power outages
Water tanks for residents at Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park stand in the snow on Tuesday. The state said the water was insufficient in both quality and quantity. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
A 6th Judicial District Court judge ruled Tuesday that Darlene Mann, the embattled owner of the Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park, must comply with a Feb. 15 cease and desist order issued by Christina Postolowski, the program manager of the Mobile Home Park Oversight Program in the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
The mobile home park, which has been struggling with its sewage system for decades, caught the state’s attention earlier this month after residents reported that sewage had spilled onto a property and water supplies to the entire property had been shut off. Park residents have now endured 16 days without running water.
Judge Kim Shropshire found that Mann failed to comply with an injunction seeking to enforce the state’s Mobile Home Parking Act by failing to: provide drinking water; provide adequate sanitary facilities; deal appropriately with a sewage spill on the property; and reimburse residents who have documented costs related to the water shortage.
Mann had four portable bathrooms delivered to Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park 11 days after the water supply was shut off. A judge has ordered that more be delivered for the approximately 75 residents of the park. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
At the request of the county, the American Red Cross of Western Colorado delivered 180 gallons of water to residents Saturday, and the city opened the doors of the Durango Community Recreation Center so residents could shower for free.
Though the park isn’t within city limits, the recreation center’s manager, John Robinette, said Lightner Creek residents can use the facility’s showers for free if they show proof of address at the front desk. As of Monday afternoon, eight local residents had done so.
According to local residents, Mann had provided minimal water to residents, and portable toilets did not appear until Thursday – 11 days after water service was suspended.
DOLA was granted an injunction by the court, forcing Mann to provide each resident with 20 gallons of drinking water daily, have more portable toilets delivered, clean up the sewage spill, and compensate residents who returned receipts for costs related to the outage submit.
The hearing began on an unsteady foot when John Seibert, the attorney representing Mann (who was not present), stated that he only learned the hearing was scheduled to take place an hour before it was due to begin. The state called five witnesses; Seibert stated he would have presented evidence if he had had time to prepare.
Because the Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park owner has not communicated with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the agency has no way of knowing if the water she is providing is safe. It then issued a notice that the water should first be boiled. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
“It was basically an ex-parte hearing,” he said afterwards. “…The bottom line is Darlene is trying to fix this thing and she wants people to have water.”
Essentially, Seibert pointed out that Mann had tried, and continues to try, in good faith to make resources available to residents of the park. Additionally, he alluded to the possibility that the sewage contamination could be the responsibility of Bart Collins, the resident, who had removed a cap in the system that allowed sewage to spill to prevent it from returning to his home.
The state claimed Mann’s efforts were inadequate in many ways.
Mann provided 180 gallons of water in two containers within days of shutting off the water supply.
Tyson Ingels, lead drinking water engineer at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, testified that the agency had no way of knowing whether the water provided was safe to drink and therefore had to issue an amended “Boil Water Advisory” for that water provided (such as was first issued on February 14 as standard practice when a water system loses pressure).
Work appears to be underway Tuesday to restore running water to residents at Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
The law states that mobile home park landlords are “responsible for and will bear the cost of providing alternative sources of potable water,” meaning that providing non-potable water is not sufficient for compliance.
CDPHE decides whether water is safe to drink, and Ingels testified that the agency has simple systems in place to work with landlords to provide water that complies with the law.
“We have requested communications on multiple fronts and have not received them,” Ingels testified.
Ingels said potable means the water is safe for consumption, cooking, washing dishes, bathing and other domestic tasks. Aside from water for laundry and flushing the toilet, Ingels said the average person uses 10 to 30 gallons of water per day, meaning the park’s estimated 75 residents would need at least 750 gallons of drinking water per day. He felt the 180 gallons of water supplied from an unknown source was insufficient.
Reed Thompson, who lives at the park with his partner and six children, said his family had already run out of the 15 gallons of water the Red Cross delivered on Saturday.
He testified that the water Mann supplied in tanks was only useful for flushing toilets.
“That’s all it’s good for,” he said. “…you can’t swim with that.”
Although Seibert tried to paint a picture of his client working diligently to restore water supplies and working with residents by offering a $100 discount on rent for the month, Shropshire said that wasn’t enough.
She ordered Mann to provide more portable toilets, although the exact number will be determined after Torrey Samson, assistant attorney general representing the state, makes a recommendation. One must also take appropriate measures to clean up the spilled sewage, including removing contaminated dirt and snow.
The court also ordered Mann to provide reimbursement to residents who provide evidence of costs related to the blackout by March 15. Some residents, including those who testified, said they did not have receipts for certain expenses, such as B. Filling with water.
Kacey Anderson, who frequently has to do laundry at a laundromat because several of her four children haven’t gone to the bathroom, said in a text to The Durango Herald that the laundromat doesn’t issue receipts.
Brandy Ward, Thompson’s partner, testified that she recorded the number of times she had to fill water jugs, but expressed concern that this might not be sufficient evidence for a refund.
Shropshire ordered Mann to provide each resident with 20 gallons of sealed drinking water per day, or that she provide an equivalent amount of water from a source CDPHE deems potable.
Seibert said the cost and logistical challenges of delivering individual bottles could be prohibitive.
“I think this is an incentive to develop a broader, more sustainable solution that is CDPHE compliant,” Shropshire told him.
The order remains valid for 14 days. Meanwhile, contractors are working to restore the park’s water supply.