We need to help these people:
32-unit village no more
March 18, 2012
JERSEY SHORE - For the past 38 years, Doris M. Fravel has called the Riverdale Mobile Home Village in Piatt Township her home.
Now 82, Fravel, a widow, recently received news that left her shocked and anxiety-ridden.
Former park owner Richard A. "Skip" Leonard told residents he sold the 37-unit park to Aqua PVR LLC. The company, whose parent company is Bryn Mawr-based Aqua America, plans to eliminate the park and build a water withdrawal facility to be used by the natural gas industry.
On Thursday, the company received permission from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to withdraw up to 3 million gallons of water per day from the site. The water will be transported via pipeline to gas drilling sites located to the north of the township.
A letter from Leonard to the residents, dated Feb. 23 - the day the deal closed, according to Donna P. Alston, director of communication for Aqua America, the developer's parent company - told the residents their leases were terminated "immediately."
"I am shocked and heartbroken I have to leave my home," Fravel said. "It is devastating that, at my age, I have to uproot everything."
"I could sit down and cry my eyes out," she said.
Other residents of the park echoed Fravel's feelings.
Deb Eck, the single mother of twin daughters who has lived at the park for 10 years, wept when she described the situation she and many other residents at the park are in. Eck said she has no idea where she and her daughters will go.
Fred Kinley, 80, also wept. Kinley said he moved into the park with his mother 27 years ago.
"She passed away 10 or 12 years ago and I've been here by myself ever since," he said, adding, "We've been abandoned."
Part of the shock was a result of how residents learned about the situation.
The Lycoming County Planning Commission approved the company's land development plans for the pump station project in mid-February.
A story about the commission's action that appeared in the Sun-Gazette on Feb. 18 was the first residents knew of the plans. Later that day, Leonard came knocking on their doors to tell them in person what many of them already knew.
"I learned about it in the paper," said four-year resident Cheryl Heard. "(Leonard) came that night and said he sold the court. He showed up at my door and said he sold the court but it's not going to be a court and (we've) got to move."
As of deadline for this story, Leonard had not responded to requests left on his voicemail for comment.
Another blow came when residents discovered how little time they have to move.
A letter to residents from Prudential Hodrick Realty, which was hired by the developer to assist residents in relocating, said the company planned to begin work on the project in May.
The letter stated the developer would provide residents with a $2,500 incentive payment if they moved by April 1, a $1,500 payment if they moved by May 1.
Alston said residents are expected to be out of the park by May 1. She declined to say whether eviction proceedings would begin against residents who do not meet that deadline.
"I can't predict the future," she said. "At this point we hope everyone will be able to make the move."
Alston said the company acknowledges moving on short notice could create a hardship for some of the residents and is doing what it can to ease the burden on them.
The incentive offer is one way of easing that burden. Hiring the real estate company to help relocate them is another, she said.
"We want to make sure they at least access that (assistance)," Alston said. "We want to do what we can to help."
Dorothy Keeler was skeptical many residents could take advantage of the offer to be out of the park by April 1.
The first incentive benchmark gave residents less than three weeks to move, Keeler said.
Even with the incentive payment, many residents will be unable to leave, according to Eck.
"Some of us can't leave," she said. "We can't afford to move our trailers."
Eck said quotes from mobile home movers have put the cost of moving the trailers at between $5,000 and $12,000.
Resident Bonnie Knarr, who has lived at the park for three years, said she received a quote of between $5,000 and $10,000. Some of the quotes do not include the moving of porches, patio, oil tanks or equipment sheds.
"If we're out in less than three weeks, they'll give us $2,500," Keeler said incredulously. "That $2,500 isn't going to (help much) when you can't move your deck or shed."
Even if many residents could move, they have nowhere to go, Eck said.
That is because there are few vacancies in other mobile home parks. Those that do have room will not accept trailers from the park, many of which are old and no longer meet new code requirements or restrictions imposed by mobile home parks as to the age and condition of the trailers.
Alston expressed surprise that residents were unprepared for the situation.
"We purchased the property on Feb. 23," she said. "Clearly, the owner had time to let them know (they needed to move)."
Alston added that the property had been for sale for a long time, which should have alerted residents of the potential for being uprooted.
"We'd never been led to believe it was being sold for anything other than a mobile home park," resident Marshall Flanigan said. "I never thought they would buy it to do what they are doing."
Flanigan said he found a park that will take his mobile home. He is paying $4,300 to have it prepared for moving and set up again at the new location. He is saving hundreds of dollars by having a relative move the trailer, he said.
Still, Flanigan is leaving the park with bitter feelings.
That is because he bought the trailer in late August, only weeks after Aqua PVR submitted an application to the river basin commission to withdraw 3 million gallons of water per day from the site. He said the park owners never mentioned it when he inquired about a lease for the trailer.
Fravel said she is especially sad because she considers Leonard to have been an excellent landlord.
"Oh, yes, he's been very good," she said.
Kevin June, a five-year resident, agreed that Leonard has been a good landlord. June said he also understands Leonard's desire to sell the property.
That, however, does not ease June's anxiety.
"You almost want to cry," he said.
Brian Holt, a four-year resident of the park who lives there with his fiancee Summer Gruthoff and 2-year-old son, said much more than a mobile home park is being uprooted. A neighborhood is being destroyed, he said.
"The (neighborhood) kids are usually playing at my house or next door," Holt said. "Five or six trailers get together for cookouts. It was an every weekend thing."
"They're not just kicking out families, they're breaking up kids," said Michael Wyant, who has lived at the park more than 25 years.
"We are a community," said one man, who did not want to be identified over concerns about jeopardizing his job. "We take care of each other."
The man predicted situations similar to the one at the park will become more frequent as drilling activity intensifies in the region.
Holt said he called numerous mobile home parks, none of which could take his 1974-built mobile home.
One park had a mobile home for sale, but there was a stipulation: It had to be moved out of the park, he said.
Diane Smith said she is angry and other residents are, too.
Smith, who has lived at the park for 14 years, said the stressfulness of her predicament is something that is with her every waking hour.
"It's the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you think of when you go to bed at night," Smith said. "This affects your work. This affects everything in your life. I don't know where I'm going to go."
"This is my home," she said. "These are not just structures. They are homes."