Court Finds Owner of Pocasset Mobile Home Park Liable for Failing to Upgrade Septic System
The court order, granted by Justice Nancy Holtz, finds Charles W. Austin personally liable for violating the state's environmental laws by failing to upgrade the badly failing septic system, despite being issued a permit by MassDEP in May 2007 that required the upgrade. It also holds the Charles W. Austin Trust and the Pocasset Mobile Home Park, LLC liable for that failure. Mr. Austin is the sole trustee of the Trust, which holds title to the property, and he is the sole manager of Pocasset Mobile Home Park, LLC, which operates the property.
"As the owner of the property, it was Mr. Austin's responsibility to comply with the law and by refusing to do so, he created a significant risk to the health and safety of the families and individuals living there," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "This court order requires Mr. Austin to upgrade the parks septic system and to comply with the law to protect the health and safety of the park's residents."
The court order was issued in response to a November 2010 request by the Attorney General's Office that the court hold Mr. Austin and the other two entities liable for failing to comply with state environmental and consumer protection laws by continuing to operate the Pocasset Mobile Home Park without upgrading the failing septic system.
The court declined at this time to issue a liability determination on the other claims in the lawsuit so that, in the interest of public health, the upgrade of the septic system can be addressed expeditiously.
"MassDEP is pleased and encouraged by this decision, which represents a victory for the residents of Pocasset Mobile Home Park and the environment," said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell. "Over the past several years, these residents have had to endure threats of sewage backups in and around their homes due to the intransigence of an owner who felt he was above the law."
The lawsuit, filed in May 2009, also alleges that Mr. Austin violated state regulations prohibiting untreated sewage discharges and that he has violated Massachusetts consumer protection laws by continuing to rent lots at the park despite knowing that the lots are served by a failing septic system that does not comply with the law and could materially impair the health, safety, and well-being of residents.
Since February, the Pocasset Mobile Home Park has been operated and managed by a court-appointed receiver. The Attorney General's Office sought appointment of that receiver because Mr. Austin refused to pump and maintain the septic system, in violation of several court orders, and was putting the health of residents at risk from repeated sewage overflows to the ground and to the yards of residents. This new development will trigger a provision in the receivership court order that requires the receiver to evaluate the cost of proceeding with the work of upgrading the septic system.
Assistant Attorney General Tracy Triplett from Attorney General Coakley's Environmental Protection Division is handling this case with assistance from Kristen Metzger of the Civil Investigations Division, and assistance from Shaun Walsh of MassDEP's Office of General Counsel and MassDEP engineers Brian Dudley and Christos Dimisioris. The Bourne Board of Health has also provided assistance in investigating the case.