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Mobile park frosted over frozen water meters

For two years, residents at Glenwood Mobile Home Park say, they have endured water leaks, broken pipes and unsafe conditions for elderly residents because of the improper installation of above-ground water meters.

Shortly after the work was completed by Salem-based Jet Industries, also known as Jet Utilities, in August 2015, residents at the 154-space park complained the installation wasn't up to code, eventually prompting the Oregon Department of Justice to investigate.

"It's been a fiasco since day one," said Guy Swartz, a 75-year-old Glenwood resident who has championed efforts to get the problems fixed.

Swartz said the issues remain unresolved. He said at least five meters froze last winter, and he expects more of the same this winter.

"We figure that because we're old people, they think they can just ignore us," he said.

Besides water meters freezing and disruptions in service, Swartz said, some of the equipment has been installed in pathways, making it difficult for residents to get around at the mobile park, located at 3431 S. Pacific Highway. Big boxes that cover the meters leave little room to maneuver between buildings.

"An 88-year-old woman can't go to her backyard because it's blocking her way," he said.

He said one of the biggest issues is that the water meters were installed above ground, leaving them exposed to the cold.

Jackson County has stepped up efforts to find a resolution to the issue, and residents of the mobile home park plan to raise their concerns at Wednesday's Board of Commissioners meeting.

Commissioner Bob Strosser said he's been familiarizing himself with the issues raised by park residents and said meters typically are required to be installed underground.

"It does not appear to be consistent with code, the meter system," he said.

Becky Papke, an enforcement officer with the Department of Justice, sent a letter to Swartz March 18, 2016, stating, "We contacted Jet Heating in an effort to resolve your complaint on an informal basis and are enclosing their response."

Erik Twenge, general manager at Jet, sent a letter to the DOJ consumer protection program March 14, 2016, responding to the complaint.

"We are still seeking to resolve the issue with code enforcement," he stated. "All meter reading equipment is functioning properly and reading accurately. Please understand that in no way has Jet attempted to take advantage or misrepresent ourselves to any of the tenants of Glenwood Mobile Park."

In a summary of correspondence between Jet and government officials that Twenge provided, a Jackson County code enforcement officer found the meters were not freeze-protected.

Jet placed insulated boxes around the above-ground meters, according to the letter, though the insulation was rated at R-8. A typical above-ground wall in a new house is insulated with R-15 to R-21.

The exchanges with government officials summarized by Twenge indicate there were more issues to correct than just freeze protection, without specifying what they were.

Twenge, in his letter, acknowledged it has been difficult working through "challenges" with Jackson County.

"We are still seeking to resolve the issue with code enforcement," he stated.

Twenge didn't return phone calls from the Mail Tribune Monday or Tuesday.

According to DOJ spokeswoman Kristina Edmundson, the case was closed June 28, 2016, because there was no further contact with DOJ from Swartz.

Residents of River Road Mobile Estates in Hillsboro also filed a complaint with the Department of Justice in 2015 over the cost of meters installed by Jet Utilities, according to an Aug. 20, 2015, article in the Hillsboro Tribune.

Swartz said the ages of people in his park range from 65 to 90. He believes the type of treatment received by residents amounts to elder abuse, and he's appalled at the amount of time that has passed without any resolution.

"I figure two years is too long," he said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Guy Swartz shows where a water meter was installed at his neighbor's residence at Glenwood Mobile Home Park in Medford. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]