Neighbors of an RV and mobile home park in Rainier say the site is plagued with septic system problems that aren't likely to go away with system upgrades.
As the owner of the park tries to modify and fix the aging wastewater treatment system, his neighbors are challenging him.
Don Campbell lives on Price Road in Rainier, near Deer Pointe Meadows, a 46-unit mobile home and RV park about four miles outside the city of Rainier. It's one of at least nine RV or mobile home parks in the county.
During a public hearing before the Columbia County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, Aug. 23, Campbell and other adjoining property owners said the park's wastewater system has failed for years, causing wastewater to back up onto their properties.
One man said his family's well was contaminated by the neighboring septic system, which wasn't designed at a large enough capacity for the park.
Campbell showed photos he took of standing water he says is runoff from Deer Pointe and riddled with harmful bacteria.
The park owner, Dale Strom, is working to fix the wastewater system, which consists of three septic systems. Strom requested a land use compatibility statement, or LUCS, from the county as part of his application to the Department of Environmental Quality for a permit modification to upgrade the system.
Shortly after Columbia County's Land Use Services Department issued a LUCS for the park's wastewater system, Campbell appealed.
During a public hearing Wednesday to consider Campbell's appeal, land use attorneys, wastewater specialists and Rainier residents packed the meeting room at the Columbia County Courthouse.
Campbell asserts the septic system modification constitutes an unlawful expansion of a non-conforming property. Deer Pointe was established in the 1960s with 33 units and was later allowed to expand in 1996 to 46 mobile homes or RVs, so long as the park didn't add any new tenants, according to county documents.
Campbell and his attorney say that never should have happened.
"Back in 2010, I was swamped out so bad with sewage from Deer Pointe, I actually decided to protect my property," Campbell told commissioners, saying he and others had to create drainage ditches. "I dug a groundwater interceptor ... to alleviate the runoff or affluent coming from Deer Pointe Meadows."
Campbell's attorney, Andrew Stamp, voiced pointed criticism of the park on his client's behalf.
"This park was originally designed for 33 units," Campbell said. "It was expanded by 13 units in 1996 and we think that was a big mistake. You shouldn't trust this park owner to do the right thing. Frankly, none of them have ever done the right thing. There's been a history of ignoring the law and basically making you guys look bad."
But many of the issues brought up by opponents of the park were beyond the scope of the county's authority, Todd Dugdale, director of the Columbia County Land Use Services Department, told commissioners. He said the park is responding to a state agency request to fix its system.
"It is prompted by a lawful request by DEQ to repair that system and upgrade that system to avoid future violations," Dugdale said. "Failure to have a properly designed sewer system has contributed to the failure of that system."
He said DEQ is charged with evaluating the integrity of the proposed upgrades, not the county.
Following Wednesday's public hearing, commissioners opted to leave the record open for written comments from appellants and the applicant, until reconvening on the matter Oct. 4.