In the midst of discussions over the county’s fraught affordable housing situation, a North Whidbey mobile home park seemingly has run out of water, and its residents don’t know where they can go if they’re left high and dry.
Island County and Oak Harbor staff are working to preserve the more than 70 units at Wagon Wheel Mobile Home Park after its wells failed.
Park owner Al Verbarendse asked the city to extend water services to the Heller Road property, located outside city limits, after attempts to drill new wells failed.
The park’s water availability has been sporadic for the last couple of months, according to some of its residents.
Starting about a month ago, water had to be trucked in from a fire hydrant inside the city.
“It’s pretty hard to function in every day life when you don’t even know if you can get up and take a shower,” said resident Pam Bishop.
The truck comes in the morning and evening, but residents like Bishop and Michaela Stearns said it isn’t usually on when they try to shower before work in the mornings. When residents do have working plumbing, they don’t know if it’s safe to drink or wash dishes.
The residents have been notified to boil water before consuming it.
Multiple residents said they’ve been buying bottled water to drink, which is both inconvenient and expensive. Bishop said she’s frustrated that, even though she has a washing machine at home, she has to use the laundromat to clean her clothes.
Officials don’t seem to know why the park is dried up.
Island County Public Health Director Keith Higman said the county hydrogeologist measured water levels at surrounding wells and didn’t find them lower than average.
Higman said it might be the age of the park’s infrastructure causing some of the problems, and the property could benefit from the extension of city services.
“Two wells on site are so old we don’t even have records of their construction,” Higman said.
He also expressed concern about the septic system on-site, which is likely from the 1950s or 60s, he said.
There are a number of regulatory obstacles in the city’s wake if it decided to extend services. There are both local and state regulations prohibiting urban services to be provided outside the city’s water service area and urban growth area, or UGA.
Oak Harbor would have to change its municipal code to allow water to be provided to a non-government entity and sewer to be provided outside the UGA.
The city would also need permission from the City of Anacortes to extend water services. Oak Harbor water comes from the Skagit River through an agreement with Anacortes.
Council members said they are supportive of changing the code to try and save the property because of the value of affordable housing in the area.
Last Wednesday, Councilman Bill Larsen told staff that once the city gets the “green light” from Anacortes and the county, he would vote to narrowly change the code.
Residents have said they are eagerly awaiting some sort of resolution to the issue because they don’t want to move and some aren’t sure they’d have anywhere to go.
Bishop said after the issues got worse, she looked around for comparable rent in the city and hasn’t found anything in her price range.
“I would move out if I could, but I don’t see that as an option at the moment,” she said.
Linn said she’s lived in Oak Harbor for about 25 years and at Wagon Wheel for seven. She and her husband live with two children full time, and Linn’s other five visit on weekends.
“I’m worried about having to move out,” Linn said. “We want to continue to live here as long as we can because it beats living in a tent.”
In addition to inconsistent water, Linn said she and her family have dealt with their septic system, which is shared with other units, failing on multiple occasions.
The state Growth Management Act prohibits cities from extending “urban services,” which includes sewer, outside of UGAs.
However, Higman has told city officials that he would be willing to designate the issue a public health emergency, which would allow the extension to happen under state law.
City Development Services Director Steve Powers said its unrealistic to try and go through the process to add the property into the city’s UGA.
Staff told the council there are low-interest loan programs the property owner could potentially apply for to make repairs or drill another well, but he would have to wait until the fall for the programs to open.
While discussions go on, residents are left in limbo, not knowing if they can shower that day, wash their dishes or do laundry.
“I just want this to end,” Bishop said. “I want some sort of solution sooner than later.”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.