guest blog by Deborah Goonan
Ruth Crompton and her neighbors recently discovered that 7,000 gallons of raw sewage has been discharged into their storm sewer vault over the past 9 years. It seems that someone, presumably the defunct developer, mistakenly connected Crompton’s black sanitary sewer pipe to the white storm sewer drain. Big “Oops!” The error was recently discovered by the County’s Surface Water Management Division.
Crompton and her neighbors want to know why the County inspector signed off on the plumbing project at the time of construction. Not willing to accept responsibility, the County claims that perhaps a bad repair was made sometime after the County inspector approved the work.
Snohomish County officials insist that Crompton and five neighboring homes belong to an inactive HOA, and that homeowners are now responsible to pay for the cleanup, at a total cost of $15,500. If owners do not comply, they could face additional fines up to $5,000 each. The crazy part is, Crompton and her neighbors never knew about the small HOA. It was never discussed prior to sale, and, without a Board, they have never paid any assessment fees. County records indicate that the community was created as Starlight Park Condominiums. The six homes share a driveway, and, even though the now-bankrupt developer never funded the HOA, owners are just discovering they must share the cost of maintaining their common drainage system.
Ms. Crompton plans to fight against paying for what she believes is the County’s error and responsibility.
Never mind the apparent inspection blunder at the time of construction. Since this HOA never got off the ground, shouldn’t the County step in? And why did it take the County 9 years to discover the problem? Obviously, the County and water management authorities approved construction permits for the developer, who turned out to be somewhat of a dud. Why should the owners – who are truly victims of circumstance – pay for the errors and incompetence of the parties who were responsible for construction from initial permitting to issuance of a certificate of occupancy?
The Ombudsman’s explanation: well, if these owners don’t pay for the cleanup, the County will face sizable Federal stormwater fines, and the taxpayers will have to foot the bill. Sounds like someone is passing the buck – literally.
I predict that County taxpayers WILL pay for the inevitable lawsuit brought by Crompton, and they may also be unable to avoid the federal fines. Wouldn’t it be less expensive, easier, and fair for the County to simply take care of the problem it helped to create?