Skip Corby woke up Friday morning under layers of blankets inside a frigid Kennewick motorhome he borrowed from his brother and started the generator that is his lifeline.
The $30 worth of gas he managed to scrounge up to keep the generator going will burn up in a day or two. Corby used some of the precious fuel to cook leftover sausage, the only thing he wasn’t forced to remove from his fridge when the power to his Kennewick mobile home was shut off this week.
“I had to throw some groceries out,” the 47-year-old said. “It’s a waste of money and we don’t got no money to do that. I am on Social Security.”
Kennewick cut the power to the Columbia Drive Mobile Home Park on Thursday because the electrical system in the park is on the verge of “catastrophic failure” and was a safety risk to people living there, officials said.
About 40 residents had to find other places to stay. A handful are sleeping in motorhomes.
It could be two weeks before the power is back on.
“We are just trying to stay warm,” Corby said as he stood in front of a friend’s trailer, wrapped in a brown jacket.
Kennewick officials said the park’s owner, Carl Isaacson, repeatedly ignored warnings to bring the electrical system in the 1950s-era park up to code.
As the temperature drops, officials don’t want to risk a surge in electricity from heaters overloading the system and sparking a fire.
“The city is not willing to gamble with the children’s lives living there or the firefighters that would have to go there,” said Kennewick Fire Marshal Mark Yaden.
Isaacson and the city have reached out to the Benton Franklin Community Action Committee to get support for the displaced residents.
Kennewick sent Isaacson a letter July 11 setting an Oct. 18 deadline for a new electrical system. Yaden warned Isaacson in the letter that if the work was not done by then, the power would be shut off.
After extending the deadline, the officials visited the park Thursday and found just 10 percent of the project was done, said city spokeswoman Evelyn Lusignan.
Yaden said the July letter was one of the city’s last attempts to get Isaacson to fix the problems. Officials apparently have set numerous deadlines since 2011, even threatening to recommend criminal charges to the city prosecutor.
Isaacson has missed every deadline the city has set and the delay in putting in a safe electrical system is “baffling,” Lusignan said. An independent engineering firm hired by Isaacson also found the electrical system to be unsafe, she said.
“Due to inaction on their part, the city had to step in and that is why the park is shut down,” she said. “The city and state have expended numerous hours with the park owner working on the issue. The owner at any time could have corrected this.”
Isaacson, a 53-year-old general contractor from Richland, admitted to the Herald that he missed numerous city deadlines but only because they were unreasonable.
“Now they are trying to paint me as an irresponsible slum lord and that is not true,” he said. “There is a community here and these people are real. I am 100 percent committed to fixing this situation as quickly and as safely as possible. I owe that to these people.”
Isaacson said he hired BUILT Construction and Electric of Richland to replace the electrical system. The project will cost about $40,000.
“We will have enough juice in here to light up Chicago,” he said.
Isaacson insisted money never was an issue; rather, he was having trouble understanding why the Benton Public Utility District was not maintaining the electrical system. Isaacson said PUD officials told him in 2011 that he would be responsible for upgrading the system.
“The PUD wired everything in the park and built everything in the park,” he said. “When PUD abandoned it, the overhead became my responsibility?”
Isaacson said he has been committed to making sure the park is safe for families since he inherited it from his father in 2009. The park, which sits near the river off Columbia Drive, has been in his family since 1979.
Isaacson said he believes the city is after him because the park is a valuable piece of land that the city or the Port of Kennewick would like to develop.
“We have some political motivations going on over here and I know the city is not telling the truth about the situation,” he said.City officials denied his claim, saying they only want to make sure people are safe.
Frustrated residents who spoke to the Herald feel caught in the middle.
Some said Isaacson is doing his best to get the power back on, while others thought the situation never should have gotten to this point.
“He should of done this years ago,” said RoJean Jensen, who has lived there 10 years. “He should have done this. We paid our rent on time.”
Tracy Hale, 61, has been living at the park for about a year and has seen Isaacson working to help people, he said. He hopes the problem is solved quickly so he can get back to a normal life.
“It’s like camping right now,” he said.
Lusignan said they are pleased the project is under way and the residents soon will have a safe electrical system, but it’s upsetting that the residents are the ones who have to suffer.
“The good news is that he has a contractor down there working,” she said. “That has been the goal all along.”
w Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Ty_richardson