Trailer park under DEQ order to fix septic troubles

By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT

News staff writer

February 18, 2006

The Rodriguezes are worried about a puddle that keeps appearing near their single-wide manufactured home in the Mt. Hood Trailer Park.

It’s there even when all the other rain puddles have evaporated.

And it’s worse when it’s raining, sprawling through much of their tiny yard.

That puddle, and a letter typed on bright yellow paper which they received Thursday, are the sources of their worries right now.

And they have a lot of worries.

The letter is from the Department of Environmental Quality.

It went out to all of the Rodriguez’ neighbors — every resident of this trailer park.

It told them some of the soil on which they walk, some of the puddles in which their children play and from which their dogs drink, is polluted, laden with raw and semi-treated sewage.

The sewage is coming from the trailer park’s septic systems, which have been leaking since at least October 2005, according to DEQ.

But it most likely isn’t staying inside the trailer park.

“The sewage may then be entering surface waters which can flow off the trailer park property and into a nearby stream, which is a tributary of the Hood River,” the letter told them.

The leaky septic systems have affected the Mt. Hood Restaurant too.

Although restaurant owner Debra Miller says the affect so far has been limited to the bureaucratic type.

The Hood River County Health Department delivered a similar letter to Miller on Thursday.

It’s hanging on her restaurant wall.

“The restaurant is fine,” she said. “The bathrooms have been fine. I’ve never had any backage or anything. I know they’ve had a problem over there (at the trailer park) and they’ve been trying to take care of it. But so far, it hasn’t affected anything in the restaurant.”

The trailer park and the space in which Miller operates her restaurant is owned by brothers Keith and Dan Green. The restaurant and trailer park share septic systems.

The DEQ ordered them in October 2005 to repair their septic system and keep the sewage from surfacing in the puddles and driveways of the people who rent space from them.

The DEQ has ordered the Greens to present a WPCS plan, a strategy, of how they are going to repair the problem.

The deadline for that plan is Feb. 22.

“They will make that deadline,” said Mike Thompson, attorney for the Greens. “They are working diligently to solve the problem.”

The Greens have contracted Environmental Management Systems in Portland to engineer and repair the septic system and drain field, Thompson said.

Repairing the septic system and drain field will likely cost between $20,000 to $40,000, Thompson said.

And in the meantime, they’re trying to figure out how to pump all the suspicious ground water so that it does not contaminate the park or the nearby streams. They’ve covered the affected areas with hydrated lime.

October was about the time the heavy rains came, saturating the drain field and transforming the packed dirt around the park into a soupy mess of mud and sewage.

The problem flared again this month when a resident plugged his toilet, forcing the entire septic system to spew out sewage onto the surface of the trailer park.

“A resident plugging the toilet is a foreseeable event,” Thompson said. “And that (septic system backing up as a result) shouldn’t happen.”

Thompson said the saturated soil won’t allow the Greens’ engineer to pursue permanent repairs until it dries out.

Until then, the Rodgriguezes will do what they can to stay healthy. And that means altering the simplest events of their lives.

The DEQ letter told the Rodriguezes to keep their children away from wet areas in the park, to keep their pets indoors or in kennels, to keep them on a short leash when they take them for a walk and to stay away from down slope surface water and streams.

The Rodriguezes have also stopped drinking the tap water and won’t allow Joanna, their 9-year-old, to play outside.

“She plays a lot outside,” her 19-year-old sister Susana said. “She plays all the time.”

They’re worried about their neighbors, who have a 1-year-old and a 1-month old.

And they’re worried about what might happen to them if the owners of the property can’t fix the septic system.

“If they decide to shut it down, where would we go?” said Susana.

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