Part of Kennewick mobile home park still without power

By Tyler Richardson, Tri-City HeraldNovember 15, 2013 

Manuel Cuevas starts preparing for bed by lining up four stainless steel water bottles on his kitchen counter and sparking his gas stove to boil water.

The 55-year-old lives in a faded orange and brown trailer at the Columbia Drive Mobile Home Park in Kennewick. Cuevas has been without power at his home, which he pays $225 a month to rent, for more than three weeks.

The city shut off the power to the park's 24 trailers after a dispute with the owner about the electrical system. City officials said the 1950s electrical wiring posed a fire hazard to residents.

Contractors have been working on the system since late October, and six more trailers got their power back Friday, bringing the total number of trailers with power to 18. Crews hope to have the power fully restored by the end of next week.

While power is back on for some of his neighbors, Cuevas is left to find creative ways to beat the chilly temperatures until his heat comes back on.

He tried to rig a makeshift generator out of the Nissan Sentra parked beside his trailer. Although the idea wasn't successful, wires attached to the car still lead into his cluttered living room.

Cuevas goes through a nightly routine of putting hot water into the bottles and positioning them along his bed in a tiny room near the back of the trailer. A light attached to a strap on his forehead guides him.

Cuevas climbs into bed in body armor of oversized sweatshirts and long johns. He then insulates himself with the bottles, wraps up tightly in a sleeping bag and clicks off the headlamp.

The cold temperatures have left Cuevas with a nasty cold and resentful toward city officials, he said.

"I wonder how much our rights have been violated?" said Cuevas, who has lived at the park for more than 20 years. "Is this a legal procedure the city took to do this in the winter time? We don't know the law, man. We just speak what we think is right, and this is not right."

City officials said they were forced to shut off power after the park's owner, Carl Isaacson, repeatedly ignored requests to bring the electrical system up to code.

Kennewick Fire Marshal Mark Yaden told the Herald the electrical system was on the verge of "catastrophic failure."

Isaacson, a 53-year-old general contractor from Richland, said he thought it was the Benton Public Utility District's responsibility to maintain the system because the agency built it. The park has been in Isaacson's family since 1979, and he took it over when his father died in 2009.

The city set an Oct. 18 deadline for the electrical system to be upgraded. Yaden sent a letter to Isaacson warning him that if the project wasn't done by the deadline, the power would be shut off. The city extended the deadline almost a week after meeting with Isaacson.

About 10 percent of the work was done when city officials visited the park Oct. 24 and the power was shut off, city spokeswoman Evelyn Lusignan said.

Since then, residents have been fighting to stay warm.

Isaacson hired BUILT Construction and Electric of Richland to do the electrical overhaul, which will cost an estimated $40,000.

"The work is moving along," he said. "We have had some problems here and there but that can be expected with a project of this size. This has been real hard on residents. But we have some good community support here."

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries has been monitoring the project and inspecting the contractor's work along the way, said Dene Koons, the department's electrical inspection field supervisor.

Inspectors have been at the park five times since the project started. Besides one minor issue that was fixed the same day, there have been no problems with the upgrade.

L&I officials have been working closely with the PUD to monitor the project, Koons said.

PUD officials are making the project a top priority and the city believes the project is moving smoothly, Lusignan said.

Though the project may be going well in officials' eyes, residents say they are angry about the stressful situation.

While most residents were unsure where to direct their anger, the ones who spoke to the Herald said they thought Isaacson was doing his best to fix the problem and accommodate their needs.

Linda Wallace has lived in almost every lot during her more than 30 years at the park, she said. Her adult son Clayton, who lives with her, was born in one of the trailers.

For the past few weeks, the 60-year-old has been bouncing back and forth between a couch in the manager's office and the lime green trailer she shares with a pack of black Lab mixes.

Isaacson's parents took Wallace off the streets when she was an addict and gave her a place to stay, she said.

"I am stressed but I am making it," she said as she held a hot cup of coffee Isaacson provided. "You got to understand, Mr. Isaacson is doing the best he can. He got left with a pretty big handful when his parents died. Nobody told him what was going to happen."

After the power was shut off, Isaacson brought down hot meals for the residents, he said. He barbecued chicken, made chili, roasted a turkey and grilled hamburgers. Isaacson also hooked up hot water to a shower in the park and made sure residents had something to drink.

"We have all come closer. We are all associating and have good behavior," said RoJean Jensen, who has lived at the park for 10 years. "Carl has been doing right by us."

Isaacson said the past few weeks have been stressful as he has had to watch some people his family has known for decades suffer.

"It's tough. It's really hard to see," he said. "They have a lot of pride down here."

w Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; trichardson@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Ty_richardson

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