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Prospective buyer explores sewer fix at Halfway Tree

The Halfway Tree Mobile Home Park, which has been fined by state water quality regulators for surface water pollution, could change hands and have its septic problems solved.

A potential buyer met in September with state water quality regulators and with Hendersonville city officials about the enforcement case against the current owner and asked about hooking onto city sewer, said city utilities director Lee Smith.
Two people representing the buyer met with Smith and an engineer and environmental specialist from the state Division of Water Resources last month. The division, a part of the Department of Environmental Quality, fined the park owner $65,368 in July after regulators determined that the park had discharged wastewater into a stream that feeds Meminger Creek. It cited specific violations in June 2017 of “cloudy, odorous and foamy water” flowing from a stormwater out-fall near the southeastern boundary of the property. DEQ investigators visited the park again last November and December and, after finding violations, cited the mobile home park owner a second time.
The prospective park buyers were in the process of due diligence, Smith said, to determine the cost of hooking on to a public sewer system and whether a new owner would be liable for the ongoing enforcement action.
“The state reassured them that if they come in and they have plans to fix the problem, they’re not going to hold them hostage for something somebody else did,” he said. The DEQ officials “wanted to see this problem fixed. We were certainly happy to hear they were proposing to purchase the property and remedy this problem.”
Although the city by policy usually requires property to be annexed if the owner hooks on to the city sewer system, that’s not possible with the Halfway Tree park.
“They’re actually closer to Flat Rock. They’re contiguous, so we would not annex them,” Smith said.
The city would help cover part of the cost of extending a sewer line to the park only if other businesses or homeowners were picked up along the way.
“If we could pick up more customers the city could get involved in the cost,” Smith said. “That was one of their questions.”
It’s unlikely that a new owner could fix the current on-site septic system in a way that would satisfy regulators.
“The state highly recommended that they put in the sewer because the problem, as I learned, is that a lot of those individual units have their own septic systems and some are combined and there is no way to tell who’s tied in to what and where it is,” Smith said.
The property owner, Upchurch Marinas Inc., acquired the mobile home park in 2002. In an appeal of the state’s enforcement action and fine, the Florida-based company said that it had cooperated with the Division of Water Resources since 2015 and spent $250,000 “repairing and in some cases replacing septic systems.” An engineering study Upchurch commissioned in 2017 projected the cost of connecting to the city sewer system at $1 million to $1.8 million. The response to the state DEQ says that while the property owner does not dispute that “certain water samples” violated water quality standards, the cause, besides failing septic tanks, included heavy rains and upstream stormwater. Upchurch’s response, filed by Asheville attorney William Clarke, seeks an appeal before the Office of Administrative Hearings and requests that the DEQ dismiss the civil penalty.

Sarah Young Perkins, a spokeswoman for the Division of Water Resources, said Halfway Tree owner's appeal is scheduled for Dec. 2 in Waynesville. The agency is unable to comment on what liability if any a new owner would have, she said.

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