Sewer service fee dispute bubbles up for former Grand Lake motel owner
A potential legal battle could soon be shaping up in northeastern Grand County as a local business owner presses a dispute with the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District over sewer service fees.
During the summer of 2011, a fire broke out inside the 20-unit Isolation Peaks Motel, owned by John Waller of Grand Lake. The fire did significant damage to the motel building, located along Highway 34, and, according to Waller, it was demolished in spring 2012. After the structure was demolished, Waller was required to cap the 10 sewer taps that provided sewer service to the property. Since that time, Waller has been billed roughly $1,100 per fiscal quarter for sewer service by the Grand Lake-based Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District, which Waller contends is unfair and inappropriate.
Waller said he has not paid the ongoing sewer service bills since the motel was demolished. According to Waller, he accrued a bill of approximately $11,000 before Three Lakes submitted his debt obligations to the Grand County Treasurer’s Office, which then tacked on an additional 30 percent. Waller said he now owes over $18,000, which he said is set to be collected through taxes.
Waller recently retained the services of Grand County-based attorney Anthony DiCola and has spoken to Three Lakes about potential legal action if he cannot reach a resolution with the district that he feels is appropriate.
“I am asking for relief,” Waller said. “We are asking for them to relieve me from all those payments and discontinue charging me until someone applies for a building permit.”
Waller said he has had phone conversations with Three Lakes over the last several years and even appeared before the Three Lakes Board of Directors during a board meeting roughly two years ago seeking relief. Waller said the board declined to approve his request at that time with the explanation that there was no precedent for such an action.
Three Lakes District Manager Katie Nicholls told Sky-Hi News on Tuesday that Waller’s ongoing service fees are based on the district’s rules regarding sewer service.
“The way our district rules are set up — and they have been in place for a long time — if someone has active taps, in order to maintain and keep those taps they have to continue paying fees,” Nicholls said. “We do offer the option of relinquishing taps. If that happened he (Waller) would no longer have to pay use fees.”
Waller said the cost of removing and replacing the 10 taps on his property, which he estimated would be over $100,000, is prohibitive.
“I am trying to sell the property,” Waller indicated. “That would take over $100,000 off the value of the property.”
Nicholls said that, to her knowledge, Waller is the only property owner within the district disputing the sewer service fees as it regards to property not currently utilizing the sewer system. She added that the district is waiting for the completion of a rate study and that the Three Lakes board plans to discuss vacant land taps and when to initiate user fees sometime later this summer or fall.
Around Grand County other water and sanitation districts said their policies are in alignment with Three Lakes Water and Sanitation.
Tabernash Meadows Water and Sanitation District Manager Thom Yoder said his district levies sewer service fees once sewer taps are installed, regardless of the development status of a property.
In explaining why such service fees are assessed even in absence of development, Yoder pointed out that sewer lines, once tapped, can quickly be connected to trailers or other structures to begin usage.
“Someone could go in, park a trailer and tomorrow morning be using the sewer again,” Yoder said.
An official from Granby Sanitation District said that district operates in the same fashion with no fee waivers granted to undeveloped properties or those that have experienced natural or man made disasters. Granby Sanitation specifically highlighted the Marvin Heemeyer incident and noted that properties impacted or destroyed in that incident continued to pay their service fees to the district.
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