Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, May 13, 2002

Confusion gives mobile home residents a scare

By Lynda Jensen

Confusion caused a scare for several mobile home residents when sirens went off May 5, leaving them locked outside of their yet-unopened storm shelter.

Severe weather moving through the area deposited quarter-size hail, and damaged some out buildings in Cokato. No one was injured during the storm.

Sirens went off, leaving residents scrambling for cover. However, the new storm shelter built by the mobile home park owner was locked, since it was not finished yet.

The storm appeared to build right above the immediate area, leaving emergency personnel little time to react, said Denny Bobrowske of the Howard Lake Fire Department.

Last month, mobile park tenants were given a mailed notice with their April statements instructing them to take cover at the storm shelter from now on.

Mobile Park tenant Peggy Ashley recounted the events to the city council at its meeting Tuesday.

The notice set off a round of confusion, as residents, who normally take cover at the high school, found the west door of the school locked and the shelter locked as well.

The fire department opened the east doors of the school, Bobrowske reported to the council.

There is no designated door, Ashley said, although the west door was used at the end of last year.

Most of the tenants looking for shelter ended up at the school.

Eventually, the shelter was opened, although this was not supposed to happen, since the shelter is waiting for a certificate of occupancy by the building inspector, Mayor Gerry Smith said. Otherwise, the owner is liable for any problems that arise, he said.

The shelter construction was held up because mobile park residents insisted that a concrete, and not wooden, step be installed in the back door, said City Clerk Gene Gilbert.

Concrete steps are not required for the storm shelter. In fact, state requirements only apply to the building structure itself, she said.

When the notice was mailed to the tenants, the owner had good faith to get the shelter completed, Mayor Gerry Smith said.

Ashley noted that it was the failure of communication on the owner's part to alert tenants to the delay.

Bobrowske advised the council that the Howard Lake Fire Department was planning to come up with a comprehensive plan to solve the issue, and that the department will open the high school regardless of the storm shelter status, to avoid further confusion.

Park closing issue

In an unrelated matter, Ashley also expressed her strong disappointment that the council did not pass an ordinance protecting the park tenants from relocation costs if the park should close due to development.

The group did receive a letter about the city's decision after it was made.

Ashley disagreed with Administrative Assistant Kelly Bahn about whether the tenants were covered by state statute in the event of a park closing.

The state law that exists now offers enough protection for tenants since it requires the council to hold a public hearing about a potential park closing, Bahn said.

It gives the city the ability to recoup the costs at that time, Bahn said.

Ashley disagreed, saying that the state law does not cover the tenants unless the city passes a corresponding ordinance. "We have absolutely no coverage ­ no protection," she said.

"They'd still have to go through the council," Council Member Don Danford pointed out.

City Attorney Chuck Paschke advised the council to wait until the incident actually occurs, since the process allows the council to control what happens to the park anyway. "The council is not turning its back on you," Paschke said.

"It's no more of a gamble than the day you bought your mobile home," Smith commented.

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