401 Meeker St Delta CO 81416 970.874.4421

Encampment draws attention of health officials

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Photo by Pat Sunderland RVs, buses and camp trailers are scattered on both sides of Alkali Basin Road north of Delta. Most of the squatters have the owner's permission to occupy the land, but run afoul of county health requirements for septic disposal sys

The sight is all too common in Delta County -- an older RV is parked in the middle of a parcel of land without access to water or a sewage disposal system. Some folks are just passing through; others seem to be more permanent, surrounding their residences with a growing collection of vehicles, outbuildings and, on occasion, trash and cast-off items.

It was the trash blowing onto a neighbor's property that prompted a complaint to the Delta County Health Department about a series of encampments along Alkali Basin Road north of Delta. To get to his home, the man has to drive through the unsightly mess of dilapidated RVs, campers and buses that have been parked on a 40-acre parcel of private land, with the owner's permission. None have adequate sewage disposal systems, which has been the focus of the health department.

"It was a legitimate complaint," said Delta County environmental health specialist Keith Lucy, who explained the difference between a public nuisance and a public health nuisance.

At the end of July, Lucy, a co-worker and a sheriff's deputy issued notices of violation to the various occupants along Alkali Basin Road. The notice advises occupants they have 90 days to submit an application for a sewage disposal permit to the local health department.

"We talked to everyone -- or taped notices to the door if they weren't available -- so everybody is aware of the violation," Lucy said. The notice outlines the steps to be taken to remedy the situation. "They have to take out an application, obtain the services of a registered professional engineer, and submit the application and design to us. Then we can issue a permit," said Lucy.

"But this is not an isolated situation," he added. "The dilemma is that these situations are popping up all over the county for various reasons. When we become aware of similar situations, we investigate and determine if they're in violation.

"We understand that the resident's financial situation is often a factor, but we have regulations that we're charged with enforcing. It's not fair for some residents to apply for a permit and come into compliance, but not others. This procedure is required for everybody, and we need to be consistent."

Lucy said the occupants along Alkali Basin Road were polite, and several said they planned to move on in a week or two anyway. Unfortunately, he said, people seem to come and go from that piece of land so ensuring compliance can be challenging.

Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee said numerous complaints of unlawful acts have been reported along Alkali Basin Road, mostly due to drug and alcohol use. On Aug. 2, a Loveland man reported he had been assaulted by three individuals and the tires on his vehicle had been slashed while parked in the area. He declined to pursue the matter any further.

Lucy said health department officials won't be going out of their way to search for other encampments in Delta County, but if they receive a complaint or spot a potential violation while they're out and about, they're going to follow up.

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Encampment, Health Department
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