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MT landlord accused of contaminating well water by illegally discarding raw sewage

Posted at 11:39 AM, Jun 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 13:39:51-04

PARK CITY — A landlord is being taken to court after Stillwater County officials found raw sewage draining from his property, causing surrounding well water nitrate levels to skyrocket.

Nitrate levels started climbing in early 2021 in wells downstream and near the 15-unit Homestead complex that houses 39 tenants.

In a complaint filed June 4, 2021, in Stillwater County District Court, the defendants are listed as Gary Weitz, the Robette R. Weitz Living Trust, and Robette R. Weitz. Documents state the investigation began when a complaint was made regarding raw sewage flowing into a cistern on the property.

Stillwater County Environmental Health Registered Sanitarian Josh Juarez went to the property on March 15 and saw raw sewage being discharged into a makeshift ditch. At that time, a sample of well water was taken from The Homestead and tested by Energy Laboratories in Billings.

The nitrate level measured at 7.99 mg/L. Montana’s groundwater standards state nitrate plus nitrite levels may not exceed 10 mg/L. A contamination investigation is triggered once levels reach 5 mg/L.

A bar located across the street and downstream from the complex was also tested in March and nitrate levels measured at 8.15 mg/L. The U.S. Post office located immediately south of The Homestead tested at 11.6 mg/L. When the post office well water was tested again in May, its nitrate level jumped to 18.9 mg/L. Located next to The Homestead, the Park City Fire Department’s west well measured at 12.2 mg/L.

The contamination continued down the street with Park City School’s well measuring a 9.50 mg/L nitrate level.

“In 2016, our nitrate level was at 2.0. And that was about our average number,” said Park City Schools Superintendent Dan Grabowska.

Before the school year ended for summer break, Park City had around 300 students and staff members on school grounds.

“The one thing we’re fortunate of right now, is that we don’t have the bacteria in the water because if there was a bacteria, then we would probably be stopping use of all of our water. So we don’t have that, but we’re afraid that’s going to happen if things aren’t mitigated,” Grabowska said.

The contamination put a strain on the school, as they had to use bottled water for drinking and cooking.

“We were fortunate with donations in the community for bottled water, and then Culligan stopped by out of Laurel and brought us eight water coolers and a rack of 40 5-gallon jugs so that way we can have water throughout the school for everybody,” Grabowska said.

Park City generally has healthy well water. The area of concern is past the railroad tracks, south and west of The Homestead.

“Just on the other side of the railroad tracks, their nitrate levels are sitting at .6, so it’s real low. We were real low, 1.5 or something in that area just a few years ago, so we know that we can get it back to that again,” Grabowska said.

In the complaint, the Board of Health is requesting a judge to rule source of the problem is The Homestead so lawful measures can be taken.

The county sanitarian wrote two letters to Weitz, dated March 17 and April 21, requesting he immediately cease the discharge of sewage until the sewage connection is repaired and an inspection is performed by his office. Juarez and Weitz also had a phone conversation on April 1.

“You assured me that repairs were underway and you would contact me for an inspection when finished,” Juarez wrote to Weitz in the April 21 letter.

“As of April 30, 2021 Defendant Gary Weitz neither ceased the discharge of raw, untreated sewage into a makeshift ditch nor contacted Stillwater County Environmental Health for an inspection of the sewage connection,” the complaint states.

"During follow-up visits at the Homestead Property, Juarez continued to observe raw, untreated sewage in the makeshift ditch. Instead of addressing the violation, Juarez further observed that the Homestead Property management was pumping and spreading the sewage from the ditch into the alley and onto adjacent properties," the complaint continued.

The DEQ issued a violation letter on May 21 that requires Weitz to come up with a plan and make repairs by June 30. The complaint explains the other defendant in the case, Robette Weitz, is the trustee under the Weitz Trust.

MTN News reached out to Gary Weitz for a comment but did not hear back.