WARRENTON — Sunset Lake Resort & RV Park, a controversial low-income housing center in a bucolic, lakefront setting south of Warrenton, faces several challenges from outside and in.
The state Department of Environmental Quality has fined the park’s owner, Ken Hick’s Resources Northwest Inc., over sewage overflow for the third time in two years, ordering the company to lower the flows or decommission the park’s sewage system. Meanwhile, the county is trying to replace Hick with a receiver, while one resident under an eviction notice has been protesting just outside the park entrance.
“Since September of 2015, the system has been failing,” said Esther Westbrook, an environmental law specialist with the state, about the sewage system at Sunset Lake. “It’s been discharging sewage that’s either untreated or partially treated into the ground. That’s what happens when there’s too much waste coming through the system.”
The park has a 4,500-gallon-a-day flow limit under its Water Pollution Control Facilities permit. But Westbrook said the park has intermittently been topping the limit since 2009, with reports showing the park has been over the limit every month last year. The most recent penalty was $6,825 for sewage overflows and operating a failing system. The penalty included a compliance order saying the park has to consistently lower the flowage to allowable levels by March 15 or decommission the entire sewage system by April 15.
Resources Northwest, which uses a third-party septic company to gather the statistics being reported to the state, appealed the most recent fine and held an informal hearing last week with the Department of Environmental Quality.
Kevin Luby, the attorney for Resources Northwest, said the park has several issues, including tenants using more than the park anticipated.
“We’ve made efforts to shut down the laundry facilities at the park,” Luby said, adding the park is installing meters to track usage.
While the state is trying to lower the sewage flow, the park faces a continuing lawsuit with Clatsop County, which would like to remove Hick as owner and replace him with a receiver, a person appointed to hold in trust and administer property under litigation.
According to county staff, Hick’s ownership of the park has been marred by issues of overcrowding, sewage overflows, gray water leaking into Sunset Lake, a lack of emergency vehicle access, run-ins with police and illegal utility hookups.
“The neighbors have been dealing with this for years … and they’re pretty cynical over the ability of the government to help out there,” said interim County Manager Rich Mays.
A petition by about 60 neighbors of the park prompted the county to begin enforcement action, resulting in a 2011 compliance order to lower the number of permanent units at the park from 60 to 43, including 18 mobile homes and 25 RVs, along with 38 spots for visitors. Nearly three years ago, the county sued Hick in an effort to enforce the lingering code violations. The case is scheduled for trial in June.
Bart Catching, a code compliance specialist with the county, said the park was still four or five RVs over the permanent resident limit as of February, but is having residents move between RVs within a 30-day time limit to appear temporary.
“I have nothing against the park’s right to exist,” Catching said. “It just needs to meet (codes).”
Luby said that after one more eviction, the park will be down to the proper amount of units. “I’m not aware of any situation where we have people moving from unit to unit,” he said.
Luby said while many people at the county have been good to work with, some staffers higher in the agency have been slow to act in good faith while the park tries to make improvements.
Anthony Smith, who with fiancée Whitney Millagé, moved into the park in October and faces eviction March 9, has been protesting at the corner of Sunset Lane and Lewis Road over what he says is a retaliation for reporting unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
Smith has been posting pictures on Facebook of what he says are trailers at the park with holes in the floors and ceilings from rain getting in, sewage leaking out of pipes and unsafe utility hookups. After posting the photos on Facebook and protesting out front, he said, he and Millagé have faced retaliation from management.
Park manager Susan Hart and other residents have cast Smith and Millagé as troublemakers, saying the park has provided a safe and necessary source of low-income housing for people with disabilities, veterans and others with nowhere else to go.
Shannon Watkins said she and partner Mitch Wilson moved in almost a year ago after coming back from Michigan and finding themselves homeless. Hart took them in, Watkins said, starting them out in a tent before getting them into a trailer.
“I’m on disability,” said Tommy Kelley, who has lived at the park since 2009. “This is what I could afford. Everybody that is here are here because they have to” be.
Without the park, Kelley said, he and many of the other residents would be homeless. “I feel like we’re Israel, just surrounded by everybody who hates us,” he said of the antipathy toward the park by neighbors.
Hart, who had managed the park from 2006 to 2011 and returned in November 2013, said she came back at the request of the owners to an overcrowded park with a lot of issues.
“We cleaned this place up,” she said, noting she has evicted 30 to 50 people since coming back, including families with children. Instead of nearby neighbors and others complaining about the park, she said, they should donate and help make it a better place.