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Durango mobile home park owner defends response to water crisis

Judge orders landlord to file weekly updates with the court
The owner of the Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park appeared in court Tuesday facing the possibility that she could be held in contempt for failing to abide by a court order to provide water and toilets to the park’s residents. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Darlene Mann, the owner of Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park, appeared in court Tuesday for a hearing in which Judge Kim Shropshire decided to extend a temporary preliminary injunction issued Feb. 28.

The hearing marked the first time that Mann publicly presented her side of the events. She testified, through intermittent tears, that she had provided all she could afford for the residents of the park, who have been without running water for 30 days.

The new order still requires Mann to deliver 20 gallons of potable water to each resident daily, although the state reduced the number of portable toilets that must be on site, provided they are cleaned regularly and have lighting. Mann must compensate residents for costs related to the water outage in the form of either a rent abatement or reimbursement.

Shropshire also ordered that Mann file a weekly update with the court with an update on the sewage remediation and details on exactly how much water was provided.

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

The court found that any financial hardship Mann is experiencing does not absolve her of her duties to her tenants, nor is it acceptable that she is passing the financial burden of the water outage onto the park’s residents.

Assistant Attorney General Torrey Samson, representing the Department of Local Affairs, made the case that Mann failed to clean up spilled sewage and did not provide adequate potable water and toilet facilities to the park’s residents. In doing so, Samson argued, Mann violated a Feb. 15 cease-and-desist order as well as the Feb. 28 temporary injunction, which was revised on March 3.

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

Much of the hearing focused on this issue and the question of whether Mann’s attempts to provide water and cleanup raw sewage that had spilled were sufficient. The order required that Mann deliver 20 gallons of potable water to each resident per day or work with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to ensure the two cisterns were potable; it also required that she move the dirt underneath the location of the sewage spill.

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

Tara Ritter, Mann’s niece, is now the manager of the park. She testified that on March 1, she delivered 132 gallons to the entire park spread across roughly 35 units. She delivered 52 gallons on March 12. The state has sought to hold Mann in contempt, in part because those deliveries have not come close to meeting the amount of water required by the state.

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 residents told the court that the steps she took were woefully inadequate.

Brandy Ward testified that Mann had delivered four gallons of water to her home and left a stash of bottled water at one resident’s home for others to pickup. However, Ward said that that resident, Mark Wardell, has a drinking problem, adding, “there’s no sense in going over there after 3 p.m.”

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

Amy Haas, a school teacher who lives in the park with her husband and 6-year-old daughter, testified that the water provided by Mann has been both inconvenient to access and inadequate in volume.

Amy Haas stands with her husband Joey Haas outside their trailer at Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park. Amy Haas testified that she does not trust the park’s owner, Darlene Mann, to reimburse her for expenses related to the failed water system. (Reuben Schafir/Durango Herald file)

“I weigh 110 pounds soaking wet and my husband has arthritis in his spine. How many times do I have to walk through the neighborhood carrying gallons and gallons?” Haas asked.

In her defense, Mann testified that she had provided all she could, although Samson pushed back highlighting that Mann’s bank statements, admitted as evidence, indicated she had brought in over $23,000 in rent in December.

Ritter said bottles of water were still available at Wardell’s home, but park residents still say they have racked up expenses procuring their own potable water, taking showers and doing laundry.

Mann’s legal troubles stem from not only the limited steps she has taken to address problems with the park’s utilities, but a lack of communication between herself and the state, as well as the park’s residents.

Christina Postolowski, program manager of DOLA’s Mobile Home Park Oversight Program, said the ordeal has occupied over half her working hours for the last month. She expressed some frustration that Mann had not communicated the fact that she could not, or would not, deliver the mandated amount of water. DOLA staff learned that only minimal deliveries had been made after contacting residents directly, which was a costly use of time.

“We have over 730 mobile home parks in the state of Colorado that we are regulating and I have personally spent over half of my time on this one park for the last month,” Postolowski said.

With respect to the spilled sewage, Mann testified that she did not know the cleanup had been insufficient and that no one from CDPHE had contacted her to tell her otherwise.

“In past years, this is the way we did it so I didn’t know that there were any other steps,” she said on the stand.

She agreed that the cleanup is something that needed to be done – although the proper steps have not been taken even after a CDPHE official enumerated them in court on Feb. 28. Mann admitted she had read the Feb. 28 order but said she did not remove the dirt underneath the sewage spill because she “didn’t see” that 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 ongoing conversations with CDPHE. Mann will still be responsible financially for addressing the situation, however Hamilton has provided direly needed cash infusion.


This story has been updated to include Christina Postolowski’s first name and title.

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