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Thursday, July 29, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Water Company For Small Community Is Target Of EPA Suit

SELLECK - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has sued a small, private water system here, saying it has violated safe-drinking-water laws.

Selleck Inc. and its president, Robert Schaefer, could face huge fines and a court order to provide clean water to 150 residents of this town in southeast King County.

The civil suit was filed in U.S. District Court yesterday. The EPA said it is the first time in the Northwest that a temporary restraining order has been sought based on violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Selleck, which owns the town's water supply, has failed since 1988 to adequately test the water and has violated quality standards on two occasions, the EPA said.

Several residents complained two months ago that they got sick after drinking the water.

The EPA found fecal coliform bacteria in one Selleck home used as a day-care center, and found bacteria in the water at two other homes it tested last month.

The fines, if applied by a judge "in a Draconian way," could amount to a lot of money, said Brian Kipnis, an assistant U.S. attorney. The EPA is asking for penalties of up to $25,000 a day for each violation in the suit.

A hearing before U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly was scheduled for this afternoon.

Schaefer has resisted attempts by state and federal agencies to test and treat the above-ground-water supply. The state Health Department has tried without success since 1988 to force Schaefer to comply with drinking-water laws.

Dave Clark, director of the Health Department's drinking-water division, said the state was too busy with "other, more important cases," and did not have the resources to take Selleck to court again.

"It was because of our inability working through the state system that we referred it to the EPA."

The EPA said Schaefer ignored an administrative order last month to begin testing and treating the water with chlorine.

Schaefer did not return phone calls yesterday.

The EPA is seeking a restraining order that would require Schaefer to provide customers daily with a minimum one gallon of clean water per person.

The order would give Schaefer two days to comply, and would require him to tell customers to boil their tap water in the meantime.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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