June 06, 2020
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Maine mobile home park residents weigh lawsuit over water problems

Dreamstime | TNS
Dreamstime | TNS

Frustrated by ongoing water supply problems, residents of Brunswick’s Bay Bridge Estates mobile home park have formed a tenants association and retained an attorney to investigate a potential class-action suit.

Kennebunk attorney Peter Clifford confirmed Tuesday that he represents the tenants association and would begin fact-finding about potential legal action against the park’s owners.

Clifford attended a meeting of the residents of the park Sunday, and he said he was “very cautious” in explaining potential legal options, but mentioned the possibility of a class-action suit.

Early in January, during a prolonged cold spell, residents of Bay Bridge informed Brunswick officials that they had no water. Town Attorney Stephen Langsdorf and municipal administrators declared the lack of water a “public health issue” and ordered Bay Bridge to correct the situation.

When town officials deemed that response inadequate, Town Manager John Eldridge ordered water to be trucked to the mobile home park at Bay Bridge’s expense.

Langsdorf wrote in a Jan. 5 release that Bay Bridge had agreed to pay for the water, which would supplement any groundwater in the park’s dozen 5,000-gallon storage tanks, and that would result in no rationing.

The same day, Bay Bridge sent a letter to tenants informing them of “the installation of a new well,” previously anticipated for spring.

According to the release, the owners had committed to drilling a new well, which was expected to be completed by Jan. 19.

But according to correspondence Eldridge provided Tuesday, Bay Bridge personnel denied an inadequate water supply, and they said an unusually long cold spell caused the complaints about supply. They claimed tenants left water running to prevent frozen pipes, resulting in a low supply, which prompted management to reduce the overall flow to prevent damage to the system.

Rodney Doray of the tenants association said Sunday that tenants spent money they didn’t have on water at the time — and that some are still having problems.

Some residents spent as much as $2,500 repairing the main water line into their homes, he said.

Water has been an issue in the park for years, Doray said, “with some of the plumbing freezing up, or septic things overflowing. I do know I have a rotted-out bathroom floor from years of this happening.”

“Some people were buying their own water, so how much are people out of pocket,” Clifford said. “If you’re forced to live in uninhabitable conditions, you’re entitled to a rebate on your rent. Some had to go to a hotel because it was so cold.”

Clifford said the decision to drill a new well or tap an existing, capped well would be made by management, but he said, “obviously, it raises some questions about the quality of the water and its safety. And many, many residents have let it be known for years they don’t like the quality of the water.”

But he said all testing seems to show it met standards — although he said recent testing showed “unacceptably high levels of arsenic.”

Kevin McCarthy, who represents the park’s owners, The Liberty Group, said Wednesday that the two existing wells were enough to meet regular customer demands, until the cold spell.

“But the problem was we had tenants just running water,” McCarthy said. “In many cases, there were just frozen pipes, so there was no water. But usage in the park almost doubled [at that time], and the wells couldn’t recover quickly. As a result, we had to limit outflow.”

In a Jan. 4 letter to the town, McCarthy wrote that it was the responsibility of the mobile home owners to insulate their pipes with wrap insulation, heat tape and skirting to prevent freezing. He added that such is often not the case, or plumbing is not in good repair, but that on-site management is available to help tenants.

He claimed Bay Bridge Estates, and not the town, is currently trucking in the water, and said the park did expedite the process of bringing an old, capped well back online, which he hopes, pending state approval, will increase supply starting next week.

On Tuesday, Eldridge said the town had just received results of water testing, which showed elevated pH levels at various sites and elements that could contribute to the bitter water complained about by residents. He said the tests also included water trucked in from the Brunswick Topsham Water District, which could affect the samples.

McCarthy said the park has tried to work with tenants, and he has met with leaders of the new tenants association. He said he was disappointed to hear of potential legal action.

“I don’t know what kind of class action there could be,” he said. “We’re willing to, and have expressed to the leaders we want to sit down and work this out.”

“The issue is whether there’s a breach of habitability — whether they were living in uninhabitable conditions, with the lack of water,” Clifford said. “I think there’s been a question as to what extent the town’s provision of water mitigated those circumstances.”

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