Jon Austria/The Daily TimesNicole Garfield uses an electric kettle to boil water at her home at the Auburn Mobile Home Park in Farmington on Wednesday.
Jon Austria/The Daily Times Nicole Garfield uses an electric kettle to boil water at her home at the Auburn Mobile Home Park in Farmington on Wednesday. (Jon Austria)
FARMINGTON — The lingering odor of gas raised little interest at first.

It was just another thing gone wrong — no more alarming than the sewage backup, the water shutoffs, the electrical outages, the cracked and broken road.

That all changed 17 days ago when a concerned resident alerted a New Mexico Gas Company technician.

Tenants at Auburn Mobile Home Park, located at 951 N. Auburn Ave. in Farmington, have gone without natural gas since March 11 when the company shut off all service because of a major leak.

A company contractor began laying down a new gas pipe system on Tuesday, immediately after a right-of-way permit was signed, said Teala Kail, gas company communications manager. The first phase of the project could be completed as early as the end of next week.

"These residents are (gas) customers of the landlord at this point," she said. "We're making the transition to make them (direct) gas company customers."

The intervening days have seen a mass exodus of residents to motels, nearby relatives, anywhere with hot water and a working stove.

But for a handful of tenants, flight is not an option. They have no where else to go.

"We are really struggling right now," said Nicole Garfield-Arroyo, a park resident of about one year.

Garfield-Arroyo stood in the cramped mobile home she shares with her seven sons, ages 12 years to 8 months, and her husband Oscar.

"It's really hard," she said. "I have to boil water with an electric kettle for baths and to wash dishes. We all sleep in one room to keep warm."

Garfield-Arroyo said although she tries her best to keep her children warm, fed and clean, she thinks someone at Apache Elementary School called the state's Children, Youth, and Families Department because some of her children had dirt under their fingernails and looked unkept.

Department case workers came to check on her situation, she said.

"They said it was all fine," Garfield-Arroyo said.

Jon Austria/The Daily TimesAuburn Mobile Home Park residents talk about the gas and maintenance issues affecting their homes at the Auburn Mobile Home Park
Jon Austria/The Daily Times Auburn Mobile Home Park residents talk about the gas and maintenance issues affecting their homes at the Auburn Mobile Home Park in Farmington on Wednesday. (Jon Austria)

Henry Varela, communications director for the state agency, declined to comment on Garfield-Arroyo's case, but said that the department will generally send case workers to check on a situation and to follow up on a complaint or report.

For Garfield-Arroyo and her family, the breaking point came and went days ago.

Last week her youngest child, eight-month-old Carlos, got sick.

"He spiked a fever," she said. "Then he started seizing. We were in the hospital for a week. I'm going to be running low on food stamps. I have to use all of these microwave dinners because I don't have gas to cook with."

Garfield-Arroyo and her family say they feel abandoned by Haddon Wilson, the landlord. In a Monday interview, Wilson said he has been working with the gas company every day to restore service as quickly as possible.

This is my home," Garfield-Arroyo said. "This is what I paid for. I want to stay here. Is there any way — isn't it his responsibility to make sure I have proper heating? We were just asleep and we woke up cold."

Garfield-Arroyo family members are not alone in their frustrations.

Ryan Brown has lived in the mobile home park for about two-and-a-half years.

The gas shutoff is just the latest in a string of bad management and maintenance practices that plague the mobile home park, he said.

"There's problems with the water, with the sewage all the time," Brown said. "Everything seems to back up a lot. We have an eight-month-old baby. It's been so cold at night."

The park has also been plagued by power outages including one Tuesday from about 10 p.m. to midnight, he said.

"This park is always having issues," Brown said. "We've called code compliance to complain about the sewage backup. The pipes are all rotten. They have roots growing inside. It gets snaked but that's only a temporary fix. They always grow back."

Another neighbor, Gloria Morgan, has lived in the park since 1991.

There have been electrical outages and water has been shut off without notice in the past, she said.

For now, however, the overwhelming issue is the natural gas shutoff.

"I'm just tired of freezing," said Jill Martinez, a resident since 1996.

For Martinez, the situation is more nuanced.

"Mr. Wilson, he's been a good landlord, but he's just getting old," she said. "For an older man to put up with this is too much."

Nevertheless, Martinez was angry.

"We should at least get reimbursed," she said. "There was an 80-percent leakage. (Gas company employees) told us that we shouldn't even be here. It could have exploded. We could have all died."

Wilson had few words Wednesday when asked for comment.

"What would I reimburse them for?" Wilson asked, his voice trailing off.

 

Greg Yee may be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter @GYeeDT.