Durango Mobile Home Park Owner Defends Water Crisis Response – The Durango Herald

The judge directs the landlord to file weekly updates with the court

The Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park owner appeared in court Tuesday, facing the possibility that she could be contempt for disobeying a court order to provide water and toilets for park residents. (File by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Darlene Mann, the owner of Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park, appeared in court Tuesday for a hearing where Judge Kim Shropshire decided to extend a temporary restraining order issued on February 28.

The hearing marked Mann’s first public presentation of her side of events. She tearfully testified that she had provided whatever she could afford to help residents of the park who had been without running water for 30 days.

The new order still requires Mann to provide 20 gallons of drinking water to each resident daily, though the state has reduced the number of portable toilets that must be on site, provided they are cleaned regularly and have lights. You must compensate local residents for the costs associated with the water outage, either in the form of a rent reduction or a refund.

Shropshire also ordered Mann to submit a weekly update to the court with an update on sanitation and details of the exact amount of water.

The state has tried to enforce a series of regulations to make the park livable, while Mann has tried to address the crisis with very limited financial resources, she said.

The court found that financial hardship does not relieve Mann of her obligations to her tenants, nor is it acceptable that she shift the financial burden of the water outage onto park residents.

Assistant Attorney General Torrey Samson, representing the Department of Local Affairs, brought the case that Mann failed to clean up sewage spills and failed to provide adequate drinking water and toilet facilities for park residents. In doing so, Samson argued, Mann violated a February 15 cease-and-desist order and a February 28 injunction, which was revised March 3.

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Prior to the court order, Mann had delivered two large water cisterns to the park. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a boil recommendation for the water in the tanks because it could not confirm it was potable.

Much of the hearing focused on this issue and whether Mann’s attempts to provide water and clean up raw sewage spills were adequate. The order required Mann to provide each resident with 20 gallons of drinking water per day or work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to ensure the two cisterns were potable; it also required her to move the dirt under the sewage spill site.

Lead Drinking Water Engineer at CDPHE Tyson Ingels testified that neither Mann nor the park’s certified water utility submitted the information necessary for the state to certify two cisterns as potable.

Tara Ritter, Mann’s niece, is now the park’s manager. She testified that on March 1 she shipped 132 gallons to the entire park, which was spread across about 35 units. She delivered 52 gallons on March 12th. The state has tried to despise man, in part because these shipments have not come close to meeting the state’s required water volume.

Mann said she was aware of the order to provide 20 gallons per resident per day, but said, “I just didn’t have the money to do it.”

Several local residents told the court that the steps they took were grossly inadequate.

Brandy Ward testified that Mann delivered four gallons of water to her home and left a supply of bottled water with a resident for others to pick up. However, Ward said that this resident, Mark Wardell, has a drinking problem, adding, “There’s no point in going there after 3pm.”

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“I’d rather not put myself in that situation,” she said.

Amy Haas, a school teacher who lives at the park with her husband and 6-year-old daughter, testified that the water provided by Mann was both inconveniently accessible and insufficient in quantity.

Amy Haas stands in front of her trailer at Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park with her husband Joey Haas. Amy Haas testified that she did not trust the park’s owner, Darlene Mann, to reimburse her for the failed water system. (File by Reuben Shafir/Durango Herald)

“I’m 110 pounds soaking wet and my husband has arthritis in his spine. How often do I have to walk around the neighborhood with gals and gals?” Hass asked.

In her defense, Mann testified that she had provided whatever she could, although Samson hit back, noting that Mann’s bank statements, which were admitted in evidence, indicated that she had taken over $23,000 in rent in December.

Ritter said bottled water was still available at Wardell’s home, but park residents still say they made expenses to get their own drinking water, showers and do laundry.

Mann’s legal troubles stem not only from the limited steps she took to address issues with the park’s utilities, but also from a lack of communication between her and the state, as well as the park’s residents.

Postolowski said the ordeal has taken up more than half of her working hours over the past month. She expressed frustration that Mann had not communicated that she could not or would not supply the prescribed amount of water. DOLA staff learned that minimal deliveries had been made after contacting residents directly, which was a costly investment of time.

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“We have over 730 mobile home parks in the state of Colorado that we regulate, and I’ve personally spent more than half of my time at that one park in the last month,” Postolowski said.

Regarding the sewage spill, Mann testified that she was unaware that the clean-up was inadequate and that no one from CDPHE contacted her to tell her otherwise.

“We’ve done it that way in previous years, so I didn’t know there were other steps,” she said in the stands.

She agreed the purge was something that needed to be done — although the proper steps weren’t taken, even after a CDPHE officer counted them in court on February 28. Mann admitted she read the Feb. 28 order, but said she didn’t remove the debris from under the sewage overflow because she “didn’t see” those steps were required.

On April 1, the park will come under the control of Chris Hamilton, who is also under contract to buy it pending discussions with CDPHE. Mann will remain financially responsible for managing the situation, however Hamilton has provided much needed cash injections.

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