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Originally published: 2013-05-13 11:45:46
Last modified: 2013-05-13 11:45:44

Reps. Jordan, McGrady visit Eustace Conway

by Anna Oakes

Republican Reps. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson and Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville visited Eustace Conway's Turtle Island Preserve May 4 to observe its buildings and activities prior to making legislative proposals regarding primitive camps.

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

The structures at Turtle Island were constructed without building permits and do not conform to numerous provisions of the state building code, but Conway asserts that the buildings are safe and built using long-observed mountain techniques.

Jordan, McGrady and representatives are sponsors of House Bill 774, which would direct the state's Building Code Council to adopt rules exempting certain primitive structures from the state building code.

"I think this kind of primitive camp that shows the skills that our ancestors used to use is very important and valuable," Jordan said. "It's something that really doesn't fit under the current system."

Jordan said the version of H774 currently in the House Committee on Regulatory Reform is a placeholder bill, but that more specific language will be added in the coming week.

"We're revising that language and trying to spell out that primitive camps should be exempt from the standard building code ... like a lot of farm buildings," he said. "There are other camps around the state that have similar situations."

Jordan said his wife and children accompanied him to Turtle Island.

"They had just a grand time," he said. "We're going to keep checking in with him."

In March, the N.C. Building Code Council accepted a petition from staff to provide flexibility in the building code for primitive structures and camping cabins, such as those at Turtle Island Preserve.

As drafted, the state building 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.

The council is expected to consider the amendment in June.