County commissioners are being asked to help with an ongoing crisis at the Hoback RV Park, where property owners are trying to right some wrongs with the site’s failing septic system and in doing so are displacing several longtime locals.
The water quality problem and the housing dilemma came to a head Monday morning at the Teton County Board of County Commissioners meeting.
“I am at the end of my rope,” Hoback RV resident Mary Talisman said during public comment. “If I cannot make this work I will have to move out of Jackson.”
Four of Talisman’s neighbors also provided their thoughts, saying the latest proposed solution by property managers to have everyone install individual septic systems on each RV isn’t going to work for them.
Several of the tenants said it goes to show their landlords don’t understand the complexities of living in a trailer, especially in the winter.
“When we skirt our trailers, which have been skirted, and insulate it, if you were to pump individually you have to take everything off,” Cindy Zamora said. “Macy’s [Services] would have to undo all of our piping to be able to clean out our septic system. You put water in your tank. You have no way to keep it from freezing because there is no way to heat tape that.”
Zamora has lived in a trailer at the Hoback RV Park for 17 years. She and several neighbors were told in November they would need to vacate the property by Dec. 31 to make way for a new septic system that is too small to accommodate most current residents.
That notice set off a wave of outrage in the community, with the residents urging their landlords to let them stay through May. Since then many nonprofits have also voiced their concerns about displacing many elderly, disabled residents in winter amid a pandemic in a community with a severe housing shortage.
“We call on the Board of County Commissioners to ensure that these residents have a safe and healthy place to live that includes basic utilities including water and sanitation services, and convene a meeting between tenant representatives, Crowley Capital LLC, and other community leaders as needed,” a letter to commissioners from Shelter JH stated.
Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s Brooke Sausser gave public comment Monday urging commissioners to use their regulatory power to protect the residents.
“We ask that you the commission please do all that you can to facilitate, incentivize or otherwise require a meaningful solution for the Hoback RV Park residents,” she said. “Let’s acknowledge that any solution for these residents alone is a Band-Aid, and it could have been prevented.”
Parts of Hoback have long suffered from poor drinking water quality, and the area is experiencing a long-term rise in nitrates in groundwater, which poses a health hazard to residents who depend on well water. Water quality advocates also made their voices heard at Monday’s commission meeting.
“My request to the commission today is that you inform staff of putting the wastewater management plan in place, so we can move forward with that quickly, expeditiously and efficiently to prevent this type of problem from happening in the future,” Brad Nielson of Protect Our Water JH said. “And that you assist the county health department in implementing the nitrate rule, and move on updating our septic regulations, which are two years past due. The water is boiling, and we are the frog in it, and if we don’t act immediately, we will literally destroy the lifeblood of our county.”
The Wyoming Outdoor Council became aware of the nitrate issue in the Hoback Junction area over a year ago, Senior Conservation Advocate for the council Dan Heilig said.
Crowley Capital was put on notice by Teton County in the spring for a noncompliant septic system.
After a March 10 inspection, the county said Crowley Capital was in violation of several environmental and water quality standards.
A separate notice by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, dated July 1, faults Crowley Capital for violations of the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act: for discharging more sewage than is permitted (1,950 gallons per day), for operating the septic system with liquid waste on the ground surface, for adding wastewater treatment equipment without permits and for discharging “water treatment brine” without a permit.
Later in Monday’s meeting, commissioners discussed the competing problems with Teton County Environmental Permitting Engineer Ted Van Holland.
“It is obviously a serious public health hazard to have only partially treated effluent on the ground surface,” Van Holland told commissioners.
Commissioners tossed around the idea of extending the date that the septic needs to be turned off. Van Holland said he chose Dec. 31, and as it stands under the current violations, property owners will not be in compliance with codes until they discontinue use of their current failing system.
When asked what the best solution was, Van Holland said it’s not a simple matter.
“Short-term solutions are going to be very difficult,” he said. “From an engineering perspective, the solutions really include the scope of water and sewer services. In terms of on site, we pretty much anticipated from the beginning that there was potential that some people … the density there was too great to be handled by an on-site system. At this point I don’t have a single solution I’ve been able to identify that would be workable.”
Tenants want Macy’s Services to be hired to pump the on-site system until May, so they can stay online and hooked up; pumping the system regularly would keep it from discharging.
Owner of Macy’s Services Dwight Reppa told the News&Guide that would cost over $100,000.
Reppa said the alternative, pumping individual systems as needed, would cost about $340 per month per trailer, give or take certain one-time expenses depending on people’s differing needs.
For the latter, Crowley Capital has said it will lower tenants’ rent to compensate for the added pumping expense, so that monthly rental expenses will stay about $650, which is their current monthly rent.
In an email to the News&Guide, Reppa said no matter which solution they go with the tenants will be paying for septic services between now and the spring.
“Each RV trailer tenant will be responsible for paying for the above services,” he said. “The property owner will not be paying for the above services. Any non-payment of services will terminate services for the delinquent RV trailer until payment is received.”
Residents have raised a little over $4,000 through a GoFundMe they launched in November.
Commissioners didn’t take action on Monday. They asked Van Holland to keep them updated on potential developments.
But on Monday afternoon Commissioner Luther Propst emailed fellow commissioners and Van Holland proposing a special meeting “later this week” with a Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality employee “to help us better understand their perspective on interim use of a central holding tank until May or June to allow the people who live there the option of remaining through winter, with conventional water and wastewater treatment services, while meeting water quality standards.”
With 20 days until their septic gets turned off, residents are hoping commissioners take action, and soon.
“We need your guys’s help,” Cindy Zamora told commissioners. “Please see what you can do to help us.”