Arlee resident battles county over sanitation concerns


ARLEE, Mont. - One man in Arlee is being sued by Missoula County, but he's suing back. He owns 8 acres of land, and it's been known as a western Montana epicenter for the international phenomenon known as "couchsurfing." He has let people stay for a couple of days for free.

"It needs paint, it needs a new roof, it needs doors, it needs windows and its stuff like that, that I don't even bother to replace because, why? To lose it all to the county because I help people for free?" said Jeffrey James Halvorson, the property owner who calls his land Orange Acres.

He sells cars and lets people stay for free.

"We've helped hundreds of people here and if we can make somebody's life better for even just a couple of days, it's the best part of doing this," said Halvorson.

Reports are he has housed up to 30 people at Orange Acres at one time. One of the walls inside the community center shows some of the people who stayed and signed their names. But he doesn't have many people coming around anymore.

"They told us we created a subdivision for lease or for rent and that we needed a bigger septic tank and that we are in violation of the septic tank rules," said Halvorson.

He's talking about Missoula County. The County sued him over his septic tank, among other things, and he's suing back.

"We're the victim of the county's negligence. We're suing the county for negligence for $1,000 a day," said Halvorson.

The county is worried wastewater generated at Orange Acres is too much for the existing septic system to handle. But there's a catch -- Halvorson can't get a permit for a new one because of high ground water.

"If there's not a 4-foot separation from the bottom of the drain field portion of the septic system to the groundwater table at seasonally high levels, then we can't permit the new system or increase use to an existing system." said Registered Sanitarian at the Missoula County Health Department Jeanna Miller.

Halvorson wants to sell. He says he doesn't have many choices.

"We don't allow them to actually put new structures in there that require wastewater generation or increase the use to existing structures -- meaning adding bedrooms, or adding employees to a commercial facility," said Miller.

But no one seems to want to buy. There's no apparent end in sight to a dispute that has already lasted years.