New water fight plagues subdivision

Court wrests control of system from developer of Woodland-area homes

By Courtney Sherwood, Columbian freelance writer

Published:

 

A decade after his battle for water rights nearly landed him in the Washington Supreme Court, developer Dan Class is again tussling over H20 at a Woodland-area subdivision.

He has temporarily lost control of the water system there, though Class will be able to challenge a Cowlitz County Superior Court decision that put the Kelso-based Beacon Hill Water and Sewer District in charge. He’ll have a chance to state his case at a Feb. 28 hearing.

In the meantime, Columbia Crest Estates residents could have safe drinking water restored within a week, depending on the results of upcoming tests. They’ve been urged not to drink from the tap since June 2, when a broken water line spurred concerns that contaminants might have entered the water system. They were at risk of losing even undrinkable water, because Class had not paid for electricity used by the system’s wells, according to the state.

Trouble from the start

The Washington Department of Health also found that no certified operator was keeping pipes clean and healthy in the 22-house subdivision.

Class, a Vancouver resident according to the Department of Health, is not listed in area phone books and could not be reached for comment.

He has been in hot water over Columbia Crest since before the subdivision was built. In 2000, the Department of Ecology sued to prevent construction, saying Class needed water rights before he proceeded. Class won that battle in Superior Court, but avoided a potentially costly appeal to the state Supreme Court by obtaining water rights from other Woodland-area property owners.

The water system came online in 2002, and had its first break down later that year, said Donn Moyer, spokesman for the Department of Health.

“We’ve been tussling with him ever since,” Moyer said.

In 2010, Health officials fined Class $21,060 for allegedly violating state health orders to maintain the system, and for missing deadlines for treating arsenic in the water.

His appeal of that fine will go before a health law judge on March 30.

In addition, 19 homeowners have filed a complaint against Class with the state Utilities and Transportation Commission. They’ve asked to be reimbursed for the bottled water and treatment equipment they’ve purchased and fees they’ve paid since the system was installed.

The problems with the Columbia Crest Estates water system are highly unusual, said Carolyn Cox, a spokeswoman for the state’s Office of Drinking Water.

Since the state began regulating drinking water, fewer than 10 operators have lost control of their water systems in this way, she said.

“These people have been unable to drink their tap water without treating it since June 2,” Cox said. “It’s unacceptable and completely preventable.”