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Boone P&I conducting Best Western probe

by Anna Oakes

The town of Boone's Planning and Inspections Department is conducting its own investigation of the Best Western hotel in Boone, where an adult couple and a child died from carbon monoxide poisoning in the same room in April and June.


Boone Police and Fire Department officials on June 12 said preliminary tests linked the elevated carbon monoxide levels to the hotel's swimming pool water heater and deficiencies in exhaust systems.


"Based on everything that's happened there, we have observed a number of potential code violations," Boone Planning & Inspections Director Bill Bailey said Monday. "A lot of them are related to maintenance."


The Planning and Inspections Department is not required to conduct annual building inspections for commercial properties, officials said.


"The town of Boone P&I Department is responsible for mechanical and fuel gas inspections at the time of original construction and for alterations of the systems after the (certificate of occupancy) is issued," building inspector Todd Miller said June 12. "The N.C. Administrative Code requires that any alterations be done only after obtaining a permit from P&I. If no permit is applied for, we have no way of knowing that work was done on a system." 

 

Bailey said the department sent a letter on Friday to Best Western representatives requesting proof of any permits issued and information about any work conducted without a permit. By law, Best Western has 30 days to respond to the letter.


Bailey then expects Best Western to be placed in violation by the town, and a hearing will be held. Bailey said the hotel would likely be given the option to repair the facility rather than it being condemned.


The last time the Planning and Inspections Department inspected the facility was in March 2012, when the Best Western converted to natural gas service, Bailey said. As part of that inspection, the hotel's tankless water heaters, fireplaces and the pool water heater were checked.


"We have nothing in the file denoting any type of irregularity," he said.


Bailey said that since then -- from what his department was told -- a pool water heater was moved from the Sleep Inn's outdoor pool facility to the Best Western's indoor pool. He said outdoor pool heaters are typically more powerful than those for indoor pools.


For the hotel to reopen, the heater will need to be isolated from the natural gas system to restore the hotel's hot water, which the health department requires before it can approve a permit to reopen, he said.


Bailey said his department has completed its field investigation and is carefully compiling its report.


"We're not hiding anything. The bottom line is that we have limited ability to do inspections," he said. "The last inspection was over a year ago, and everything was fine at that point."


Watauga Democrat on June 11 requested copies of records of town building inspections at the Best Western but on June 14 was told by the town clerk that the records requested were not public records because they were part of a criminal investigation.


However, according to North Carolina General Statutes 132-1.4(f), "the use of a public record in connection with a criminal investigation or the gathering of criminal intelligence shall not affect its status as a public record." Watauga Democrat repeated its request for the records on Monday.


The Boone Town Council is slated to discuss actions the town can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning during its regular council meeting this week.