Pitkin Iron homeowners sue Semrau over water system
Homeowners living in an affordable housing project plagued by water problems are suing the city councilman who developed the neighborhood.Faulty water and septic systems at the Pitkin Iron subdivision near Woody Creek have been the source of friction between Tim Semrau and the homeowners since 2001. Residents contend that shortly after moving in, they discovered hard water, or water filled with metals and particles, coming out of their taps.In the lawsuit filed Friday in district court, the homeowners association alleges that Semrau has “engaged in deceptive trade practices in violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act.” The homeowners are seeking “three times the amount of actual damages sustained as a result of the violations of the … act.”Semrau and residents have repeatedly tried to solve the hard water woes. Hard water is safe to drink but the homeowners contend it was corroding the septic system pipes. The developer paid for half the cost of a $30,000 water-softening system. But the hundreds of pounds of salt used in the system also attacked the septic infrastructure and blocked a leach field that treats wastewater. At least one of the septic systems has failed, the lawsuit says. Now, according to court papers, “the water supply to the units at Pitkin Iron has been rendered unusable for ordinary in-house, domestic uses.” The lawsuit also says the development’s heating system has been significantly damaged.Semrau said Monday night that he had not seen the lawsuit. He did say he and the homeowners had been in negotiations “over and over again.””The last negotiation we had was in the presence of the county attorney, in which I thought we had [reached] an agreement,” he said during a break from Monday’s City Council meeting. “Subsequently, I got a letter from their lawyer not agreeing to that verbal agreement. Fundamentally, I’ve agreed to several different settlements, including certifying their system last October. They basically kept changing what they want.”Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Semrau, his company S & S Development, Wright Water Engineers, Pitkin Iron Development LLC and Larry Saliterman, co-owner of S & S.The court papers say the original water system was illegally installed without the supervision of a state engineer.”It is against the law to construct a community water system, or initiate the use of a community water system, without first submitting plans designed by a professional engineer to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for review and water system certification,” the lawsuit says.Semrau has said his engineer told him that such oversight wasn’t necessary. He also has said that he is obtaining state certification retroactively.”As of Oct. 31, we were going to have that water system certified,” Semrau said yesterday. “The homeowners at that time asked us not to do it and to ask the state for a delay because they preferred a new water system that didn’t have to have a water softener. At their expense, they wanted to examine a new water system. They did not do that. On my own volition, I drilled a test well and established that a new water system is a possibility. I’ve spent a lot of money seeing if that system could be put in, which I’m trying to finalize right now. And that’s about all I know.”The root cause of all the problems lies in the well that was originally drilled. Residents say the only solution is a new well, and they want Semrau to foot the bill. The developer said late last year that he “absolutely won’t pay for it.” He said last night that throughout the negotiations, he has acted in “good faith.””I’ve spent a lot more money on real world solutions instead of attorneys,” he said. “But depending on what the suit says, perhaps I’ll have to switch from real world solutions to attorneys of my own.”The homeowners’ lawyer, Michael Sawyer, is on vacation this week and unavailable for comment, a woman at his office said. But the lawsuit details the residents’ feelings.”The members of the [homeowners association] have been extremely inconvenienced and have suffered a loss of enjoyment of their homes and property as a result of the failure by S & S, PID [Pitkin Iron Development] and/or Wright Water to provide a certified water system,” the lawsuit says.Sawyer is seeking a jury trial.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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