Homeowner says sewage problem is ‘not my fault and I’m not paying’

LYNNWOOD — Ruth Crompton received a bill from Snohomish County last week for cleaning up nine years’ worth of raw sewage that had pooled by her driveway.

The $1,491 invoice was lower than the county’s original estimate, but the homeowner doesn’t see why she should pay anything. It was someone else’s mistake, after all.

“It’s cut and dried. Simple. It’s not my fault and I’m not paying,” Crompton said. Five other neighbors received the same bill.

Problems for the neighbors near Lynnwood and Mukilteo probably started when the homes were built in 2005. All six houses share a common driveway off of Beverly Park Road. They have joint legal responsibility for maintaining the system for collecting stormwater runoff.

Their homeowners association, officially known as the Starlite Park Condominiums, was supposed to take care of that. Yet it was unfunded and inactive. Some members were unaware of the HOA’s existence until the county told them about it.

Inspectors from the county and Alderwood Water &Wastewater District signed off on plumbing and side sewer after construction. Yet the pipe taking waste away from Crompton’s house was improperly connected, sending waste to the storm drains instead of dropping it into the public sewer.

No one noticed the mistake until last summer.

By that time, Crompton, an Iraq war veteran, was living in Puyallup and renting out her house in Snohomish County.

The Everett Daily Herald covered the neighbors’ predicament in October, shortly after a contractor for the county removed 8,000 gallons of sewage from their stormwater system. At the time, the county estimated the work would cost $15,500 — about $2,600 per household. The bill mailed Dec. 11 was for $8,946, or $1,491 each.

At one point, they were threatened with $5,000 in fines for violating water-pollution laws.

County ombudsman John Koster helped work out a deal to avoid the fines, if the homeowners offered to pay for cleanup. Crompton didn’t sign on, but most neighbors did.

A county inspector who reviewed the situation last month concluded that the mistake was probably made by an inexperienced contractor after the inspection. Others who looked at the plumbing mistake said it was so blatant that it appeared deliberate.

No one knows for sure.

The original builder, Tartan Development of Snohomish, went out of business.

Crompton said she’s prepared to file a damage claim with the county. To her, the county’s explanation still doesn’t make any sense.

“I don’t care who didn’t do what,” Crompton said. “I respectfully decline to pay. Why are you still bothering me?”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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