Grand Lake: Cabin owner challenges $20,000 water bill in court
Sky-Hi Daily News
Larry Stuart pulls out a series of bills, and one by one, reviews their amounts.
In total, the bills add up to just under $20,000, the result of a leaky water line that connects to his small, seasonal cabin in the North Shore Subdivision outside of Grand Lake.
“I’m retired. I live on Social Security and a little pension,” Stuart said, sitting at the picnic table outside of his cabin Friday.
The bills remain unpaid as he pays a lawyer to fight them – a dilemma that is approaching $30,000 with fees, and getting steeper with every passing minute.
His gamble is that in January, he will have his day in court; if unsuccessful, he will have to sell his cabin.
He is fed up by the fact that he has not had water at his cabin for three summer seasons, that each time he goes to his mailbox he worries about what might be inside, that he feels as though a water company is taking advantage of homeowners to recover the costs of an aging infrastructure, and that a dirt company grossly inflated costs for work that was done.
“I just feel cabin people up here need to know about (what is happening to me),” he said.
Stuart became embroiled with the North Shore Water and Sanitation District in late September 2005.
After he and a friend visited Rocky Mountain National Park to hear the autumn elk bugling, they went to the small cabin to rest before the drive back to Denver the following day.
They went there with the understanding that the cabin did not have water because, as was his annual routine, Stuart had already shut off the water on Sept. 1.
When they arrived, they noticed a crew of workers digging a hole across the road from the cabin. There had been evidence of a leak for some time, Stuart said, and the problem was just then getting fixed.
That night, one of the workers instructed Stuart to turn off his hot water heater (which was already shut off). He was then informed that the leak problem had been isolated, that it happened to be on a section of line that was Stuart’s responsibility.
Since Stuart didn’t want or need water for the entire winter, he never gave permission to the workers to fix this section of line, he said. Instead, he preferred to take care of the problem in the spring.
But workers fixed the pipe and filled the hole anyway.
Stuart received a bill for just under $4,500 on Oct. 2.
Then, according to Stuart, the entire section of line that crosses the road and connects to his curb stop was replaced – without his consent.
Another bill came. This time, for $4,125.
It didn’t stop there.
County Road 64 now needed to be repaired where the water line had run under it – at a cost of $4,809. Stuart received the bill on July 22.
A large section of the sunken asphalt would be repaired from a series of “four to five leaks” on that section of road alone, Stuart said, caused by 50-year-old galvanized pipes.
The following month, Stuart got another bill for $6,549. The road in front of his cabin was now paved.
Stuart said he felt like the water company had access to an open checkbook in his name.
“I never had input for the work that was done,” he said. “And no input on the billing. They just kept sending bill after bill.”
The district eventually shut off his water for non-payment.
Stuart resorted to hauling water to his cabin.
He even set up a large tank on his front lawn and filled it with purchased, domestic, potable water, until the water company told him that, by law, he couldn’t use that as a water source.
They also required Stuart to replace the piping from his curb stop to the cabin.
Stuart abided, but thinks the piping was fine and did not need to be replaced.
This fall, even though unpaid bills have accumulated, and sides plan to battle it out in court, the district offered to turn his water on again, Stuart said, “out of good will.”
But, he said, it’s fall, and he doesn’t need water at the cabin until spring.
The North Shore Water and Sanitation District contracts with the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District for its administration. Sally Blea, district manager of Three Lakes, said Stuart’s situation is “unfortunate.”
“It was an expensive project,” she said. “It is expensive when a homeowner has a water line break.”
Although she declined to comment on the particulars of Stuart’s case, Blea said, North Shore keeps the names of several contractors that can respond to emergencies, and for this particular leak, the company that fixed it had been available that night.
Since it pulled a permit to dig up the road and fix the leak, she said, it had the responsibility by permit to repair the county road afterward.
The North Shore rules and regulations state that the service line connecting to the main line beyond the curb stop is the responsibility of the homeowner. However, Blea said, Stuart has indicated he does not feel the line is his responsibility. This policy was implemented by a vote of the water district board long before Stuart’s water line leak.
Homeowners need to be aware of this potential expense, Blea said.
In the Columbine Lake community, for example, all homeowners pay $50 a year into an emergency pool. Then, if there is a homeowner’s water line problem in a right-of-way, repairs are paid out of this insurance policy, up to $10,000 an occurrence.
In the Feb. 6, 2006, North Shore Water and Sanitation District board minutes, Superintendent Mike Gibboni said, “The water main is in poor shape and there are bound to be more leaks.”
Stuart said he hopes his neighbors are aware of problem and the costs involved in fixing it – before they end up with a pile of bills they cannot pay, piling up on their kitchen table.
“People need to know what’s going on,” he said.
-Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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