Cumberland Times-News

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March 24, 2014

Dispute over Little Orleans campground water, sewer service headed back to court

Some residents say they’re paying too much

CUMBERLAND — A dispute over water and sewer service between the Little Orleans Campground and Park Area and homeowners at the campground that’s been going on for several years is headed to court again, in both the Allegany County Circuit Court and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

A few residents have been without water since Jan. 1, said Charles Frank, one of the owners of a home in the campground. Frank said he received a notification of the cutoff by letter. He said most of the affected residents are on fixed incomes and can’t afford the $4,000 a year charged for water and sewer in 2012, for instance.

D. Bruce Poole, the attorney for the campground, has a different perspective. Only three residents are not paying their bills for the services. There are about 150 lots on the campgrounds, with 40 owned outright by residents and the others leased. Poole said water and sewer service won’t be restored to the three residents until the bills are paid.

District Court Judge H. Jack Price put it this way in one decision on the dispute, which was subsequently appealed. “The parties to this litigation have been in court on a regular basis contesting the amount of fees charged over the past several years. Quoting the 1970s band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, ‘Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.’”

The dispute centers around the fees charged for water, sewer and other services and whether the property owners are entitled to reside at the campground year-round or only use the properties as vacation homes.

The campground has maintained the intent from the beginning that the homes were not meant to be year-round residences. The home owners believe there was no such agreement. Deeds for the properties have a set fee for some services, but allow for adjustments, according to court documents. The deeds do not mention water and sewer services, according to court records.

The cost of water and sewer service are simply divided among the residents, Poole said. The campground must comply with “very expensive” state and federal regulations for water purity and sewer and that accounts for the costs to residents. The residents involved in the dispute apparently think they should determine what they should pay.

“If you don’t pay, you don’t get the service,” Poole said. The costs of the litigation are hitting the campground owners hard, Poole said. The litigation “is a very unproductive activity,” Poole said.

A trial is set in circuit court on one of the disputes, essentially a contract case over whether the water and sewer fees were paid, on April 14. The Court of Special Appeals heard another case in the dispute in January, but staff at the court said they don’t know when a decision will be filed.

The Court of Special Appeals case involves a judgement of $155,000 against the campground for and also small judgments against some of the property owners for payment of the water, sewer and other services, court records show. Poole said he believed the jury was simply overwhelmed by the amount of evidence presented, and that led to their verdict against the campground, which is the subject of the appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. Despite testimony to the contrary, the jury said the campground had misrepresented the extent of water and sewer service. Frank said he believed the service was indeed to be provided year-round.

In 2010, the Maryland Public Service Commission decided that the campground and its owners were not a public utility subject to rate regulation by the PSC. The PSC said the water and sewer provided by the campground were “incidental to its operation as a campground and park area.” The PSC decision is dated Dec. 17, 2010.

The St. Patrick Catholic Church also receives water and sewer service from the campground, and received a cutoff letter, but the Rev. Jack Lombardi said he was told by local parishioners in early March that the services were still operating. The church has not been involved in the legal disputes.

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