State regulators accuse the owner of a Ketchikan mobile home park of violating drinking water standards and allowing its private sewer system to pollute a nearby creek. Some residents say they’ve been complaining about their tap water for years.
Bridget Bock turns on the tap in her home. A yellowish-brown-tinted water fills the bathtub. She’s got a few gallon jugs filled with the stuff.
Bock says she moved to Vallenar View Mobile Home Park about three months ago, and she’s had trouble with the water. First of all, it’s unreliable — she says it’s gone out twice in the past three days, hence the jugs.
“But then the other thing is, the water is very obviously dirty,” she said. “It has a very potent rotten egg smell to it. “
She says she uses it to clean, but other than that…
“We buy our own water to drink,” Bock said. “I wouldn’t drink it. My dog won’t drink it.”.
And it’s not just the bath. She turns on the sink. It sputters a few times.
“That rotten egg smell — you get a hint of it. It’s not as bad as it’s been in the past,” Bock said. “It’s an awful smell.”
Bock isn’t the only one having trouble with the water at Vallenar View, which is about 11 miles north of town.
“Yeah, it gets shut off off and on, can’t flush our toilets, can’t drink the water because it makes us sick. Like, pukey sick, or stomach pains,” said Rosemary Patten, another Vallenar View resident.
“I started drinking it and then I stopped because I found out that I had — it’s called H. Pylori,” she said.
That’s a bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers. She says she’s tried antibiotics, but nothing has helped so far. She complains that she feels itchy after showering. She says the water often smells like bleach.
“And I didn’t have any problems whatsoever,” she said, “until I moved here.”
Now, the state of Alaska is taking the owner of the mobile home park to court.
According to court papers, the owner John Karlson and his property manager son John Jr. face five misdemeanor charges. The head of maintenance Ernest McReynolds is also included. He was the certified plant operator.
The criminal complaint follows a decade-long investigation by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s Environmental Crimes Unit.
An employee at Vallenar View Mobile Home Park’s front office declined to comment on Monday. An attorney representing the owners and management didn’t respond Tuesday to requests for comment.
Prosecutors allege the mobile home park violated drinking water regulations by failing to submit a number of required documents and water samples, including samples that test for lead, copper, and volatile organic compounds. Regulators cited the privately-run water system twice for exceeding state standards for disinfection byproducts. The complaint says the mobile home park failed to fix the problem, and in fact it hasn’t been permitted to operate since February 2018.
But the mobile home park’s alleged drinking water problems are only one part of its legal problems.
Prosecutors also allege numerous violations of wastewater regulations from its privately-run sewer plant.
Though the statute of limitations for misdemeanors in Alaska is limited to five years, prosecutors lay out a narrative describing poor maintenance and record-keeping dating more than a decade.
The state says violations were first found in 2005 when a state inspector noted that the mobile home park’s wastewater contained significantly higher levels of fecal coliform bacteria and dissolved solids than permitted. Follow-up inspections in 2007 and 2008 found the same issues, according to court documents. Another inspection in 2015 allegedly found that the same issues identified a decade earlier. In addition, Vallenar View allegedly hadn’t submitted required monitoring reports.
Prosecutors say the mobile home park was put on notice for problems at its wastewater plant in late 2015. Follow-up tests showed discharges into Whipple Creek had five times as much fecal coliform bacteria as the water entering the plant.
In other words, the wastewater system was making the water dirtier before it was dumped into the creek.
The inspector allegedly found 1.6 million fecal coliform colonies in a sample of the treatment plant’s outflow. That’s 200,000 times the legal limit.
In court documents, the state notes that environmental regulators issued fecal contamination advisories for sites downriver from Vallenar View in 2018 and 2019. Independent water quality monitors found fecal contamination at a common shellfish harvest site near the treatment plant this past summer.
Vallenar View is home to about 250 residents. Rosemary Patten is standing on her porch on a Tuesday morning where she’s had her mobile home for two years. She says she’s not just concerned about her own health in the household. And she wants the state to get to the bottom of this.
“By all means have some more people come out and talk to us — because this is our children,” she said. “This is our lives out here. It’s not okay.”
The mobile home park’s owners and managers — three defendants in all — are scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 8, 2020 in Ketchikan.