AUGUSTA — A Riverside Drive apartment complex where the septic system failed has been shut down by the city and declared unfit for habitation.

A total of 26 people lived at Country Village Motel and Apartments at 458 Riverside Drive when city officials first learned the septic system had failed, leaving sewage on the ground near occupied apartments. On April 25, the city issued a warning that if the owner couldn’t fix the problem within 10 days, residents would have to vacate and the complex would be declared unfit for habitation.

By Monday, the end of the 10-day period, four residents, including one child, remained in three units at the former motel that had been converted into apartments. They were ordered to leave by the end of the day, said Rob Overton, a code enforcement officer for the city.

Owner Olin J. Charette, of Vassalboro, said “nobody is homeless,” as all his former tenants had found other places to live.

He acknowledged the septic system had a breach and said he hoped to fix it and reopen the apartments, but said he wasn’t sure how much a new septic system would cost or whether he could afford to reopen the business.

“People have to live somewhere,” Charette said Tuesday while working on the apartment complex, where a back lot had just been cleared of trees to prepare it for potential use as a drainage field. “We didn’t realize we had a broken pipe. When we realized it, we did our best to repair it. But there’s no question we had a breach. I think the city has been fair to me.”

Overton said Charette has cleaned up some junk on the property, but that the septic system is the main issue.

“He’s done everything he could do within his means,” Overton said of Charette. “To reopen, there’s a dangerous (unoccupied) building in there that will have to be dealt with and some other code issues with the dwelling units, such as smoke detectors, but the big item will be a septic system in working order.”

Overton said the septic system was “in complete failure,” and sewage was discharged onto the ground several hundred feet from the Kennebec River, and there was a large amount of sewage on the ground “in the immediate vicinity of where people were living. We deemed it a threat to public health.”

Charette said a broken pipe allowed storm water into the private septic system, overwhelming its ability to take in the combined water and sewage. He said the public sewer system is not available, as the Greater Augusta Utility District’s system stops a couple thousand feet south on Riverside Drive, otherwise he’d hook the apartments up to that.

Paula Dube, who has lived at the complex with her husband, Kenneth, for about a year and a half, says Charette is the best landlord she ever had, and he always quickly addressed any maintenance issues they had.

Tears came to her eyes Tuesday while packing up their belongings, as she described Charette as a generous, kind friend who might have lost his livelihood when the apartments were ordered closed by the city.

“My heart is breaking for him. They’re ruining his life,” Dube said. “It hurts. This man worked hard all his life, now he has nothing. And he still has mortgage payments to make.”

Dube said Charette was selling equipment to try to raise money to help fix the issues at the apartments.

She said the city should give Charette more time to fix the septic system.

Overton said when Charette was first informed the septic system would have to be replaced, he indicated he would not be able to do so. He said in more recent conversations Charette indicated he had talked with people about the septic system and had some ideas, but the city had not yet received a permit application to put in a new septic system at the site.

City Manager William Bridgeo, in a memo to councilors, said state Child Protective Services was notified because one of the remaining tenants at the property Monday had a child there. Overton confirmed a state Child Protective Services official was on the property Monday.

Overton said he notified the Greater Augusta Utility District the water to the site needs to be shut off because there are multiple plumbing fixtures at the apartment complex which can’t be turned off to stop them from flowing.

A few tenants came and went Tuesday, packing up their belongings to move.

Dube said she and her husband were going to rent an apartment in Augusta from Charette’s son, and they’re putting many of their belongings into an enclosed trailer they recently bought. She said it was stressful to only have 10 days to find a new place to live, especially for tenants without much money. She said she hopes it is temporary, as she wants to return to the 458 Riverside Drive apartments if the elder Charette can open them back up.

Dube said Charette would let some tenants slide when they didn’t have their rent payments and was slow to evict tenants who didn’t pay.

She said their rent there was $115 a week, utilities included.

“I would come back, definitely,” Dube said. “Olin did the best he could with what he had.”

Charette said he’s owned the property for about 13 years, and he believes the septic system was installed in 1955.

The 3.2-acre property is assessed at $251,000 by the city.

Also Monday, in an unrelated move, the city’s code office declared a vacant building at 4 Chase Ave. as unfit for habitation. The home was acquired by the city for non-payment of property taxes. Overton and Bridgeo said the building is in bad shape and will likely have to be demolished.

Last year, at least 11 buildings, most of them on Sand Hill, were ordered closed until their owners could make repairs. Some of those buildings lacked hot water and heat.

Keith Edwards – 621-5647 | [email protected] | Twitter: @kedwardskj