Wilmington, NC – It's a warm summer Friday evening and residents of Baldwin Estates Trailer Park are returning from work.
Park Manager Virginia Janelle waves at a passing truck as she walks along the dirt roads of the park. She says she's friendly with all the residents because she's fighting on their behalf. The town of Leland wants to levy daily fines of $50 per unit if the park doesn't hook up to the sewer system within 60 days.
Janelle says the park can't afford the fines or the sewer, which means it would have to close. She says park residents need two years to find new places to live.
"I think I did a pretty good job of outlining the reasons," she says. "What good would it do to delay the closing? What harm would it do to the town? Mr. Baldwin is willing to pay sewer fees based on water consumption of the park."
Janelle says it would give Guillermo Mendoza time to find a new home. A carpenter who moved to Leland from Charlotte for work, Mendoza says he moved into his trailer in March. Since then he's done $1000 worth of repairs, including new flooring in the kitchen. Now if the trailer park doesn't hook up to sewer lines within sixty days, he'll have to leave.
"I guess if they don't give me a choice I'll have to leave," he says, "but I hope they don't do that."
Leland Town Manager Bill Farris says Baldwin Estates should have known this was coming. In his town hall office, Farris pulls copies of letters sent to Baldwin Estates.
"They were notified in Feb 2005 that they were in violation of the mandatory sewer connection ordinance," he says. "In March of 2005 there's a letter in the file from Baldwin that says the mobile home park will be closed in two years."
Which means the mobile home park should have already closed.
"In February 2006 the county health department, which is in charge of septic tanks, notified them that they had septic tank malfunctions. There are photos of raw sewage on the ground."
Farris says in March 2007 the county health department informed them of additional septic tank malfunctions. That's when Mendoza began his lease.
"It may very well have been a surprise to the folks living there," he says. "It should not have been a surprise to the folks who owned the property."
Back at the Baldwin Estates office, Janelle says it is a surprise, because the former manager of the park had undiagnosed Alzheimer's disease and did not handle these problems appropriately.
"It wasn't diagnosed until last year. And as I told them, I really can't hold her responsible."
Janelle says because of the former manager's illness the town should make an exception and grant another two years of leeway. But underlying this whole issue is the possibility of compliance with the ordinance and why it was ruled out so quickly. Janelle says the park is old and Mr. Baldwin does not consider spending 100-thousand dollars on sewer a good investment.
"To get his money back out of that, he'd have to keep the park open like ten years or more," she says, "and mobile homes are not new. They're OK for now, you know. It's shelter for them, and it's a roof over their head. But you can't say we're going to keep this park open forever."
But Ricky Totherow, resident of Baldwin Estates, thought it would be open forever, or at least as long as he needed it to be. Totherow is a carpenter, 46 years old, and waiting for some good news, because right now, he sees no easy way out.
"There's no way I can move it, and if I could, I'd have to buy a piece of land to put it on, because the trailer is 8 years old," Totherow says. "It's hard, it's really hard. If I can't move my trailer, what am I going to do, sell it? Live out on the street?"
Totherow says his father lives nearby and could provide assistance if he really needed it, but at 46-years-old, Totherow says he's too proud to accept hand outs and wants to take care of himself.
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