RICHMOND — The town is evicting residents from a mobile home park that has been without water for two days and residents are wondering where they’re going to live.
On Wednesday afternoon, Code Enforcement Officer James Valley, also the plumbing inspector and local health officer, went door to door in Meadowbrook Trailer Park to hand-deliver an order to vacate by 5 p.m. Thursday.
“They have no water coming in and no way to dispose of any waste,” Valley said. “That makes every single one of these trailers unsanitary to live in.”
The residents will not be allowed to return until the private sewage pumping station on the property is repaired, the order says. Overflowing sewage is saturating the ground around the pumping station and flowing into Mill Brook. Considering the leaks in nearby water pipes, town officials are concerned that the sewage could contaminate the water supply for the trailer park and the rest of Richmond.
Water to the park, where nine of the mobile homes are occupied, was shut off Tuesday around 10 a.m.
John Wilson, a resident who is organizing the other tenants to fix the problems and take action against the landlord, said he was making plans to get a new pump installed and the biggest leak repaired before the deadline to keep everyone in their homes and get the water turned back on.
Residents said Wednesday they don’t know what they’ll do if they have to move out. Many of them are on disability or other public assistance programs and can’t afford a hotel room or a moving truck.
“I have one friend in the state of Maine, and I called him and he said I can’t stay there,” Norma Duperre said. “I’m going to be in my car.”
Duperre was relieved to get a call Wednesday afternoon from the Wiscasset veterinary practice where she takes her two cats, telling her that they would shelter the cats for a few days. But she was still worried about what would happen to her furniture and any other belongings if she had to leave them in a vacant trailer park.
Brett Hollowell Sr. and Tyson Joseph Goldstein, roomates, had similar concerns about their furniture and two dogs.
“I’m clueless, literally clueless,” Hollowell said when asked what they would do.
Wilson said he has called the American Red Cross to see if they can provide housing in case the repairs aren’t completed in time.
Duperre said she doesn’t understand why she has to leave her home and said she thinks she could get by just fine by filling up water jugs any place that would let her. She said she has had E. coli several times in the past year, possibly because of the sewage, so she’s not worried about getting sick again.
Richmond Utilities District Superintendent Frank Talbot said a spigot outside the utility district’s Front Street office, next to the Kennebec River, can be used by tenants of the trailer park in need of water.
He is concerned, however, about anyone supplying larger quantities of water to the park — such as with a tank of water — without first stopping the overflow of sewage from the park.
“Any water flushed down the toilet there is just going to go down into Mill Brook,” Talbot said.
Several things have gone wrong at the trailer park.
Talbot said so much water leaks from the park’s water pipes it accounts for about 10 percent of the entire amount of water pumped by the district to all its customers.
“A major leak like that could jeopardize the ability to fight fires and provide water to the rest of town,” Talbot said.
He said the water district noticed an 8,000 gallon reduction in water use following the Tuesday morning shutoff at the park.
“We’ve seen up to 12,000 gallons of usage at the trailer park alone,” he said. “Past data shows that should be down around 1,000 to 1,500 gallons, if there weren’t any leaks.”
A backflow preventer, which is supposed to keep sewage from entering the water supply in case pressure drops in the system, hadn’t been inspected to ensure it was working. The utilities district requires all commercial accounts to have the devices, and they’re supposed to be inspected annually.
Talbot, who has been on the job for about a month, said the district has sent letters dating to at least 2011 asking for documentation of an inspection, but has not received any.
The park’s owner, Russell Edwards Jr., said Tuesday that the backflow preventer had never been inspected and that he never received notification from the utilities district that it was supposed to be.
Town staff inspected the backflow preventer on Tuesday evening and confirmed that it was working properly, Valley said, but the overflowing sewage and leaking pipes still create hazards.
Edwards said Tuesday he couldn’t afford to fix the sewage pump, leaking pipes, or other problems in the park, which is at the end of Hatch Street.
Talbot said Edwards, 80, a Peaks Island resident, told him the same thing Tuesday as well.
“In my last conversation with the owner, he said he didn’t have the money to fix it, and left it at that,” Talbot said. “I haven’t heard anything since, from the owner.”
Talbot said Edwards owes the district about $20,000 in unpaid water bills, debt that he said has been ongoing for years.
However Talbot said that water bill doesn’t have to be paid off for water service to be restored. That’s because a group of tenants joined together to commit to pay new water bills going forward, but not the accumulated debt. That will allow the water to be turned back on, if the problems with the park’s system are fixed.
Edwards says he can’t afford to fix anything because Wilson, whom he hired to manage the trailer park last spring, has not turned over the rent he’s collected from tenants.
Wilson, who still lives in the park, denies the accusations. He said he and his partner, Leo Huff, have put countless hours and thousands of dollars of their own money into the trailer park, which they want to buy and fix up. Wilson said Edwards stopped paying him or reimbursing him for expenses months ago.
Richmond Police Chief Scott MacMaster said Edwards and Wilson have contacted the police department multiple times since January, each claiming theft and harassment by the other. But the accusations have not been substantiated, and nothing has risen to the level of a criminal offense.
MacMaster said he has told them both that their dispute is a civil matter that will have to be addressed through the courts.
Wilson is organizing current and former tenants to file suit against Edwards, collectively seeking to stop evictions, recover damages and place an attachment on Edwards’ home to improve the park and pay off associated debts.
Tenants said the pipes and pump are just the latest items Edwards hasn’t repaired. Their windows have been broken for years, and Hollowell is sleeping in the living room of his trailer because the floor in his bedroom has rotted from water damage.
Wilson said the other tenants have agreed to pay an extra $50 rent in the coming months to pay half the cost of the new septic pump he put on his credit card, and he and Huff will cover the rest. They’ll seek to recover the cost of installing the pump and repairing the leaking pipes from Edwards.
Meanwhile, Edwards has until Thursday to respond to a notice of violation from the Department of Environmental Protection. If repairs aren’t made to stop further pollution of the environment, Edwards will face penalties.