After nearly 2 months, Sleepy Bear residents finally have power again
Melissa Farias had to scarf down large meals for dinner, knowing she couldn’t keep leftovers in a refrigerator without power.
Norma Ryan spent almost two months living off of beef jerky and pizza donated from local restaurants.
Amie Schoemaker had to watch her three children play inside a house with no working lights.
After 57 days of living in the dark, which the three women said could describe both living without power and without information surrounding their circumstances, they are relieved to once again have electricity in their homes in Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park on the western edge of Steamboat Springs.
“My whole family was starting to get a little bit anxious, because there was no telling when it would come to an end,” Farias said.
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Fifteen mobile homes along the side of the park closest to the Yampa River lost power June 16 after a maintenance worker attempting to fix a water leak accidentally cut an electrical line that serves those residences. While the maintenance worker was attempting to repair the severed electrical line, two fires broke out at separate mobile homes.
The process to get power restored was complicated and lengthy. Safety concerns and an investigation into the cause of the fires slowed down the recovery process. Eventually, Central Electric LLC pulled wire through the underground conduit from the main power source to individual pedestals located outside each of the impacted homes.
Once that work was finished, each home owner had to hire their own electrical contractor, according to the Colorado Mobile Home Park Act. The contractor then had to install a new power line from the pedestal to the existing electrical panel within each home, a process that can cost several thousand dollars.
“There wasn’t a lot the city could do in terms of making things go faster, but we really tried to help the homeowners as much as we could through the process,” said Deputy City Manager Tom Leeson.
Leeson said most residents have already hired an electrician to install a new power line, and those who have not have plans to do so in the coming days.
“It’s been a long haul for these homeowners, and we understand that and appreciate their patience, but we’re glad this saga has come to an end,” Leeson said.
While Farias is glad to have her electricity back on, she still believes someone should be held responsible for the difficulties that came with not having power for nearly two months, particularly during several heat waves that included record-breaking high temperatures in the area.
“As someone that went two months without power, nothing is going to take away that stress, and I would like to see some sort of acceptance that they did something wrong and work to fix future problems that we may not even be aware of,” Farias said. “I would really like the park owner to take some ownership in that.”
The Colorado Department of Local Affairs has opened an investigation into alleged negligence by the park’s owner after two residents filed complaints against him, said Brett McPherson, department spokesman.
McPherson said he could not comment on the specifics of the complaints but said the process is new for the department, which makes it difficult to provide a date for when the investigation will be completed. Once the probe is finished, the department will send a notice of violation or nonviolation to both parties. If either party disagrees with the investigation’s findings, they have the option to appeal to an administrative law judge.
Thomas Morgan, manager of the Carbondale-based KTH Enterprises, which bought Sleepy Bear 10 years ago, said he is confident the department will find no wrongdoing, as he believes the incident was an unpreventable accident.
“I don’t think this is being billed right that we’re 100% responsible,” Morgan said. “We view this as an accident at this point.”
For Farias, even if the incident was an accident, it still wouldn’t take away the financial burden of buying takeout almost every day and having to purchase five gallons of gas daily to power her family’s generator.
“This wasn’t something we did wrong; it was infrastructure and negligence really,” Farias said. “It’s not our fault that this is there, and if something else were to happen, they can’t just blame it on us.”
Ryan, a resident who worked with several organizations to bring donations to Sleepy Bear, said the park’s geographic location — on the western edge of U.S. Highway 40 right before Steamboat’s city limit ends — is significant to the way she believes the situation was handled.
“Would this have happened if we were on the mountain?” Ryan said. “I find it problematic, and I’m sure any normal person in this situation would also find it problematic.”
While residents were tasked with hiring their own electrician, Routt County United Way offered to cover the cost for each trailer up to $1,000.
“We really feel for the residents of Steamboat that they’ve had to go so long without any power,” said United Way Executive Director Kate Nowak. “If there was a way to get these people power as soon as possible, we wanted to help do that.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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