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Deer Pointe Meadows was the focus of a hearing held by county officials in late August. The discussion was a continuation of talks held in late July stemming from a construction permit application at the mobile home park. 

Exparte contacts, fire code

The August meeting began with disclosures of exparte communications related to the matter. Columbia County Commissioner Alex Tardif said a discussion with a staff member regarding RV park septic system certifications had led to a mention of Deer Pointe Meadows, at which point he ended the conversation, not knowing how it might be related to the current matter before the commission.

Commissioner Margaret Magruder said she spoke with Chief Steve Sharek, Clatskanie Rural Fire Protection District, prior to his writing a letter to the Columbia County Board of Commissioners regarding fire code concerns at the mobile home park. She said the substance of that conversation was captured in the fire chief’s letter, which ended with a recommendation that county planning and permitting processes should meet all standards and codes.

In the letter, Sharek requested that a recent Land Development Services staff report be clarified to reflect the lack of knowledge or documentation indicating that fire officials were notified at each step of Deer Pointe Meadows’ permitting process throughout the years. Sharek’s letter said it appears that the County has inconsistently enforced fire code regulations found within building codes as they apply to the permitting process.

Commissioner Henry Heimuller said he spoke with State Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) sometime after the July hearing and she asked him if there was a current, ongoing sewer failure at Deer Pointe Meadows, reportedly having heard that from a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) official. Heimuller said he then contacted county legal counsel, who confirmed that staff found a “minor” drain-related issue at the RV park portion of the mobile home park, unrelated to building permit applications at hand. 

Discussion and concerns

Moving to deliberations, Magruder suggested taking into consideration the entirety of the mobile home park in ruling on the land use appeal regarding the single space for which building and electrical permits were requested. Tardif agreed with Magruder, calling the case an interesting and fascinating example of the complex nonconforming land use issues in Oregon.

“I would have to agree that in this case, space 10 should be allowed a building permit, an electrical permit, and the ability to move forward with siting,” Tardif said.

Heimuller said he would support approving the permits, noting that issues with Deer Pointe Meadows have been intertwined with his time on the Board of Commissioners seemingly from the minute he took office. He said the current owner is doing everything possible to bring the mobile home park into compliance. Heimuller added that he disagreed with the legal interpretation held by Rainier-area resident Don Campbell, the park neighbor who filed the land use appeal against the building permits.

Campbell’s appeal is based on the argument that space 10 was one of 13 spaces that were blocked from park use by county officials during septic system repairs in 2017. Campbell said when nonconforming activities or uses are lost or abandoned, current criteria must be applied to the property.

Troubled history

Living next to Deer Pointe Meadows, Campbell has closely watched a history of septic system failures at the mobile home park. He has expressed great concern in city, county and state meetings about the number of active spaces in the park and what he says is the likelihood of a major septic system failure if capacity isn’t restricted.

Initially established in 1965, a past owner illegally expanded the park from 33 to 46 spaces, according to county land use documents. In 1996, Columbia County Board of Commissioners approved the expansion with a mandate that the failing septic system be repaired and able to meet DEQ standards for the increase in sewage from additional spaces. Repeated septic failures at the park have resulted in discharges of untreated or partially treated sewage to the ground or surface waters on multiple occasions.

A county land use document states that previous failures, while many contributing factors should be considered, were caused mainly by too much wastewater and “high strength wastewater” that takes more effort and soil capability to process. Monitoring also revealed that flows were exceeding design limits during winter months because of water pipe infiltration as well as people running water to prevent freezing pipes.

According to the DEQ, in the past two years there were approximately four effluent discharge events on the ground surface at Deer Pointe Meadows. DEQ said standard warning letters were issued and the facility corrected the problems. A DEQ representative said the agency was at the site on Aug. 2 of this year and reconfirmed permit compliance. 

Commission ruling

“As we look at the nonconforming use, and Mr. Campbell’s suggestion that not using a space or a group of spaces during a period of vacancy that is there for modifications … his is an interpretation of nonconforming use that I disagree with personally as well as so far as I can see in the law,” Heimuller said.

The commissioners unanimously voted for tentative approval of both permit requests in separate motions. A final order was set to be approved during a future board meeting.

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