For the last two months, Reed Thompson has had to hope he gets off work with enough time left in the day to gather his six children and drive them to the Durango Community Recreation Center to shower.
But that changed Thursday, when water service was restored to the unit he lives in with his partner, Brandy Ward, at Lightner Creek Mobile Home Park.
“I’m ecstatic,” exclaimed Ward from her porch. “ … The kids are so happy they can take showers at home.”
Two months to the day after water stopped flowing from the taps, 12 of the parks approximately 40 units had water service restored Thursday.
“It was nice to flush my toilet and wash my hands in the sink,” said resident Shay Gee. “I just sat there with the water running over my hands.”
For 60 days, the roughly 85 residents of the park have had to fill water jugs from a tank near the park’s entrance and boil it to do their dishes; to take a shower, residents have had to drive 6 miles to the rec center; and laundry costs for larger families have begun to add up.
“It was kind of embarrassing,” Gee said as her 5-year-old daughter, Samaria, gallivanted about. “ … She (Samaria) was asking if we’re going to have water before her birthday.”
The lack of water service has been more than just a hassle for residents, many of whom are already stretched thin between work and caring for family. It has demanded significant changes in life’s routines.
“A normal 30-minute dishwash would take three hours,” Ward said. “Having to do laundry? That was expensive. It would cost us about $160 every week.”
Thompson also noted that the experience has made residents feel disempowered.
“It’s sad when you feel more humanized at work than you do at home, where you’re supposed to feel the most comfortable,” he said.
Chris Hamilton, a Durango business owner under contract to buy the park, took control of it on April 1 by leasing it from Darlene Mann, the park’s embattled owner. Despite collecting over $20,000 per month in rent, according to bank statements that came to surface in court proceedings, Mann has been unable to finance the critical repairs to the park’s infrastructure.
As reported by The Durango Herald, the only form of sewage treatment in the park – an unlined single-cell lagoon – discharges thousands of gallons of sewage that grossly exceeds the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s parameters into Lightner Creek each day and has for decades.
Hamilton has been under contract to buy the park for nearly two years, but sale is pending CDPHE’s approval of Hamilton’s proposed solution to the wastewater system.
But when the water system failed on Feb. 13 and the sewage pipes clogged, Mann was unable or unwilling to finance a solution. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs Mobile Home Park Oversight Program took Mann to court to enforce the state’s Mobile Home Park Act.
Since Hamilton took control, he and his brother, an engineer named Eric Hamilton, have been at the park daily working to restore water service. After encountering numerous roadblocks for two weeks, the brothers and contractors from Brooks Well Service succeeded in pressurizing the new water main on Thursday.
“It’s a great feeling,” Chris Hamilton said.
The brothers and contractors have excavated a trench down most of the length of the park and are installing a new water main to replace the old system, which was beyond repair and difficult to access.
They hope to restore water to the remaining units in the coming days.
The Hamiltons have poured tens of thousands of dollars into the system, which they are unlikely to recover if CDPHE does not accept their wastewater treatment proposal and the park shuts down. And the residents say they are grateful, not only for the Hamiltons’ intervention, but to see someone demonstrate care by showing up and getting their hands dirty – quite literally.
“The Hamiltons taking over this place has been a blessing,” said resident Bart Collins. “They care. It doesn’t even make much sense, but they want to do right.”
Chris Hamilton has repeatedly said he has no plans to raze the park and develop it, but to clean it up and maintain it as affordable housing – a rare commodity in the Durango area.
After years of neglect from ownership, residents are cautiously optimistic that new oversight might save the declining park. But if CDPHE does not approve a variance in effluent standards – which Eric Hamilton says no known technology could meet – the park will be shut down.
“This is our last chance,” Collins said.