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‘A real nightmare'

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Steve Taylor is fighting to get water for his Whispering Pines mobile park that was destroyed during the Almeda Fire in Phoenix.

Whispering Pines Mobile Home Park has quietly offered a place to call home for those 55 and older since the 1970s, until the Almeda fire roared through last year.

The Sept. 8, 2020, fire destroyed 46 of the 63 homes in the park just south of Medford, but the damage didn’t end there.

Three of the six wells were destroyed and the ground water was contaminated, preventing the rebuilding of this community.

“Right now we’re struggling to produce enough water for the 17 remaining tenants,” said Cindy Taylor, who owns Whispering Pines with her husband, Steve Taylor.

Because the remaining wells don’t provide reliable water, the owners are forced to pay to truck it in.

The park sits just outside the urban growth boundary of both Medford and Phoenix, and the Charlotte Ann Water District is the nearest municipal provider of water, with one of its pipes 15 feet from the park’s property line.

The Taylors own both the Whispering Pines and neighboring Bel Air mobile home parks

“They are our sole source of income,” Cindy Taylor said. “This has been a real nightmare and a real challenge for us.”

Now Whispering Pines' ongoing problems with delivering water to its residents has reverberated in the halls of Salem.

Rep. Pam Marsh is pushing for an amendment to a wildfire bill that will make it easier for Whispering Pines and others affected by fire or disasters to tap into a nearby water district. The Jackson County commissioners Thursday also voiced support for annexation of the park into the Charlotte Ann Water District because of health concerns.

The Taylors have owned the park for 21 years, and the couple are at their wit’s end after spending years trying to tap into the municipal water system.

“We have begged, we have pleaded, we have gone through every type of red tape,” she said.

Approval to become part of the Charlotte Ann Water District is complicated and involves other approvals from the Medford Water Commission and the Oregon Health Authority.

Taylor said E. coli has been found in the well water, which is being treated with the maximum level of chlorination allowed.

She said the original owner of the property had a Christmas tree farm and he turned down an offer to become part of the Charlotte Ann Water District because he had enough well water at the time. Since then the water table has dropped, and the wells don’t produce enough anymore.

It’s not only frustrating for the Taylors, but also for the former residents.

“We’ve got people wanting to come back into our park,” Cindy Taylor said. “We can’t have new homes delivered because we’re out of water.”

A Feb. 21, 2021, letter from Susan Baker of Jackson County Health and Human Services cited ongoing problems with E. coli in the water at the mobile home park. Baker expressed concern about chemical contamination to the groundwater as a result of the fire.

“Allowing this system to connect to the municipal water source that is within close proximity to this property would guarantee a safe and adequate drinking water supply to its residents,” Baker stated in her letter.

Chris Hearn, an Ashland lawyer who represents the Taylors, said Marsh has drafted an amendment to House Bill 3126, relating to wildfires, that would provide legislative relief to help the Taylors and others with rebuilding after a wildfire.

“It’s looking better,” he said.

Hearn said that the relief won’t come fast enough for the Taylors or those who are struggling to move back into Whispering Pines. It’s costing an additional $325 a month to truck in water for each of the remaining residents, he said.

If the mobile home park becomes part of the water district, Hearn said, it will also provide better fire protection for the mobile home park.

Ironically, the water trucked in has to fill up at a fire hydrant a short distance from the mobile home park, he said.

In January, the city of Phoenix supported the annexation of the mobile home park into the Charlotte Ann Water District.

Brad Taylor, general manager of the Medford Water Commission, said the Taylors’ dilemma should be helped by the Jackson County commissioners’ vote last Thursday in support of annexation of the mobile home park into the Charlotte Ann Water District.

“It’s a step in the direction of getting to the point of an approval to be annexed into the Charlotte Ann Water District,” Taylor said.

He said the county’s action will allow the issue to be addressed by the Oregon Health Authority before coming back to the Medford Water Commission.

Taylor said he understands the frustration the Taylors are experiencing.

“It’s a sad story, but they bought that property when they knew it's not in an urbanized area,” he said.

Taylor, who is not related to Cindy and Steve Taylor, said he thinks there is enough urgency behind this issue that it will be resolved in the near future and allow the displaced homeowners to move back into Whispering Pines.

“I'm certainly sympathetic to the fact that people don’t have a place to live,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.