Board of Supervisors ratifies state of emergency at Creekside Cabins
The Board of Supervisors ratified a state of emergency and order to close Creekside Cabins just north of Willits yesterday, amid conflicting claims about the safety of the water.
On December 30, a sinkhole opened up outside the property, stranding about fifty residents and making vehicular access to their homes impossible. Today, the county is installing a temporary bridge to the property that will be in place for two days only, so residents can move out. After 5:00 tomorrow afternoon, the area will be closed to everyone, residents included, and staying onsite will be considered a misdemeanor.
CEO Darcie Antle reported that county Code Enforcement, Public Health, and Environmental Health had toured Creekside Cabins on Friday, January 20. “At that time, there was a number of health concerns due to sewage on the ground and running into the creeks,” she said. They submitted their findings to Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren, who declared a public health emergency.
The closure order specifies that the area is inaccessible for septic processing, garbage collection, and deliveries. Supervisor John Haschak described the situation as “tragic,” saying, “Unfortunately, it hasn’t been fixed by the private property owner…but I think everyone who has been involved has been working diligently and cooperatively to try to resolve the problem. There have been endless hours that the County and the State have put in to trying to resolve this issue. So I totally support the resolution, even though it’s very unfortunate, the situation that we’re in.”
Theresa Thurman, the property owner, told the Board she used a “honey pot” to pump the RVs, and that the leakage was treated properly, according to rules set by Housing and Community Development, the state agency that is in charge of mobile home parks. “Because I have to do what HCD tells me,” she told the Board. “I’m not governed by the County. And so I’ve never said I wouldn’t work with you, ever. I don’t appreciate that going out into the public. I don’t appreciate the fact that my water’s been treated as if it’s not okay and it’s not good, when in fact it is okay and good.”
Zachary Rounds of the State Water Resource Control Board’s Division of Drinking Water told us in an interview yesterday that there were high levels of E.coli in the raw well water on Thursday, January 19, though the treated water for drinking showed undetectable levels of coliform bacteria. Still, the Water Board issued a boil water notice, because the treatment is not adequate to assure that the water is free of E. coli.
Thurman asked Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren about the tests. “Are you all aware that it tested negative for the treated water?” she asked. “Are you aware of that? I need to understand. Dr. Coren, are you aware of that?”
Coren told her that, “That is not my understanding.”
Zachary Rounds said that over the weekend, two consecutive tests of the raw water wells showed non-detectable levels of E. Coli. His agency was planning to downgrade the boil water notice to a precautionary boil water notice, though that had not gone out by the time the Board of Supervisors agreed to close the park. Rounds explained that because the well at the park is so shallow, it is susceptible to surface water and must be filtered and disinfected as rigorously as surface water before it can be used for drinking. However, the water treatment system at Creekside Cabins does not provide that level of treatment, which is why boiling the water is still considered an advisable precaution.
A county press release that went out last night stated that, “The confirmed prevalence of E. coli in the drinking water and the existence of sewage water on the ground of the campground both present a major public health risk for the community in the affected area.” And Haschak told us the drinking water was only one of many factors leading to the closure. Another is the lack of access.
The county only has a two-day permit from Caltrans to install the temporary bridge to allow the residents to move out. The cost of installing and removing the bridge, and having two people on traffic control 24-7, is approximately $250,000.
Supervisor Ted Williams asked Thurman what her plan for fixing the sinkhole is, and she told him the sinkhole is on Caltrans property. We were not able to confirm the status of the property ownership and encroachment permits by our deadline.
“Is the sinkhole on your property?” Williams asked Thurman.
“No,” Thurman said. “It’s on, actually, state highway public right-of-way property…So if the encroachment permit is on their property, then they’re the ones that need to fix it.”
Williams opined that, “I think this would be between the property owner and CalTrans. I don’t think the county is a party. The county doesn’t own any of the land involved.”
County Counsel Christian Curtis told the Board that he, too, has spoken to state agencies, and that the outlook for repairing the sinkhole is not immediate. “Our understanding has been that there was a brief opportunity, sort of at the beginning, while the storms were still happening, for the property owner to obtain certain emergency permits that would have allowed for the repair and restoration of access to the property,” he reported. “Our understanding is also that that window has probably passed, and that because of the steelhead spawning season, even if the property owner is to take action here, we’re likely to not see any permitted access to the property for a minimum of about six months.”
Danilla Sand, the Director of United Disaster Relief of Northern California, implored the Board to give residents more time to move out. “Keep in mind, 90% of these folks are on SSI, SDI, and/or Social Security,” she said. “Seniors with their whole lives’ belongings, will not be able to pack up everything in less than two days. Some residents have not registered their trailers because they thought the trailer would stay permanently. Now in order to move into an RV park, the trailer needs to be in their name with current registration and be able to move down the highway or be hauled at $150 an hour. There is more than one person there currently in the hospital who will not be able to drive out their vehicles or pack their homes. This is a six-month minimum job, not a two-day job.”