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Eustace Conway speaks at Turtle Island Preserve in late 2012. Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2013-03-05 18:06:16
Last modified: 2013-03-05 18:08:33

Code changes could help Turtle Island

by Anna Oakes

N.C. Department of Insurance staff will present recommendations to the N.C. Building Code Council March 11 as part of efforts to reopen Eustace Conway's Turtle Island Preserve.

The preserve, located in Triplett in eastern Watauga County, was ordered to close in fall 2012 after county officials issued notices of health and building code violations at the site. It has hosted educational camps and workshops for the public since the 1980s.

The state Building Code Council directed staff to try to find a solution to the issue in December after Conway presented a petition with about 10,000 signatures requesting the council's assistance.

Deputy insurance commissioner Chris Noles met with county building and health inspectors and Turtle Island representatives Feb. 20 to discuss the situation and possible solutions. Noles will present a draft building code amendment to the Building Code Council on March 11.

"It will give the county officials greater flexibility when it comes to primitive structures," said Marni Schribman, a NCDOI spokesperson. Schribman said it's possible the council could direct the draft language to be further considered by a committee.

"There is not a code right now that handles primitive facilities," she said. "The code ... protects the public from purchasing property that doesn't have electricity or running water, (but) the code as it currently stands does not address property where modern amenities are not expected."

According to an email from Noles to Watauga County Planning & Inspections Director Joe Furman, the proposed code amendment would create provisions for primitive structures and roof-only structures such as pavilions that exempt them from building code requirements except for code sections on structural stability, clearance from combustibles, recreational fires and egress from sleeping rooms.

Noles' draft, which he said could be revised prior to presentation March 11, also includes a provision stating that "life safety issues not covered by this section shall be mitigated by code official."

"Its purpose is to address primitive camps in the building code," Furman said. "Since they are not currently addressed in the code, an amendment designed for that purpose should be helpful."

Conway, speaking by phone Tuesday, said he had not yet reviewed Noles' recommendations but said he has been pleased with the state's willingness to help.

"They clearly see the value of Turtle Island -- and not just Turtle Island but other people in our capacity throughout the state," Conway said.

The preserve is currently enrolling for summer camps scheduled from June to August.

"I'm optimistic that somehow we can open up," said Conway. "I'm hopeful that we can get the support that we need from the county and from the state."