Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sprinkler issue in Douglas County

2/08 tahoe mt.news

By Kathryn Reed

Doing what they thought was right for the public’s safety is burning Douglas County commissioners in the court of public opinion.
Weeks after the Angora Fire ripped through California, the Nevada gang passed a sprinkler ordinance mandating anyone who wanted to change their dwelling – even adding a deck – would have to add interior sprinklers.
Two hearings were conducted in the summer with little notice. Then people started applying for permits and the floodgates of anger spilled forth. No one was happy at the January commissioner’s meeting. The public thought the regulation too restrictive. The fire department thought the elected body was dismissing public safety.
The commissioners meet in Stateline on Feb. 21 where the issue is expected to be brought up again. Commissioner Nancy McDermid, who represents the Lake, has a slew of questions for staff that she expects to be answered.
Backflow valves are of concern. She’s heard they can’t be on the street where freezing is an issue. She wonders who’s liable if it malfunctions in a garage or home.
She wants to know if a building ordinance similar to what went into effect in California on Jan. 1 would be more logical. It’s like health care – prevent the problem, don’t just treat it. Using fire resistance building material may be the solution.
She wants to know what other jurisdictions in the basin are doing.
She wants to know if sprinklers helped anyone in the Angora burn area.
She questions whether the multitude of water districts can even meet the water demand for sprinklers.
She wonders if concentrating on defensible would be more beneficial.
She worries about all the residents in Douglas County when it comes to home fires. Tahoe isn’t the only area with a wildland urban interface. But it is the only area of the county which must comply with the ordinance in question.
“I think the concern I have is if you institute something that has all these unanswered questions and it’s so restrictive, you will have people doing stuff who don’t get permits,” McDermid said. “That doesn’t help anybody.”
Tom Dirkes didn’t find out about the ordinance until he was all set to go with a remodel. After two years of going back and for with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency he thought he was good to go. Come to find out the ordinance was passed a week before he filed papers with the county.
He got three bids for sprinklers -- the lowest was $82,000. Now he’s fighting the system to make it fair the average person to build an addition or remodel.
“People want to improve their houses and they can’t,” the Stateline resident said.
Before the commissioners passed the ordinance, only newly built houses of more than 5,000-square-feet needed sprinklers.
Cost is a concern to McDermid, too. It’s one of the reasons she and her husband don’t have sprinklers in their Carson Valley house. They didn’t think they would recoup the cost of the system. They know the ordeal of adding sprinklers from having installed them when they owned the Holiday Inn Express in South Lake Tahoe.
Most of all she is concerned about public safety when it comes to fire – but she wants to make a decision based on more information than she had six months ago.

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