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Eustace Conway is the founder of Turtle Island Preserve. File photo

Originally published: 2013-03-12 17:32:48
Last modified: 2013-03-12 18:38:05

State council proceeds with primitive camp additions to building code

by Anna Oakes

The N.C. Building Code Council on Monday 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.

Chairman Dan Tingen assigned a review of the modifications to a joint building and fire committee.

"Once the committee reviews and refines the language, the next step will be to put the issue on the agenda for public comment at the next Building Code Council meeting on June 11," said Marni Schribman, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Insurance.

Deputy Insurance Commissioner Chris Noles presented a draft code amendment that 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.

Code officials would mitigate other safety issues not covered by this code section, according to the draft amendment.

The preserve, founded by Eustace Conway 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.

In an email to Conway and Watauga County Planning & Inspections Director Joe Furman, Noles said his draft proposal and also issued guidance on how the NCDOI would apply the current building code to Turtle Island, noting exemptions from the code for land areas, barns and sheds.

"This allows Watauga County to structure a procedure to reopening the camp," Noles wrote.

Speaking last week, Conway said, "From what I can tell the state has given the county clearance to reopen Turtle Island. The state is asking them to move forward positively."

Furman said Noles told him he is working on a plan to reopen Turtle Island.

"We'll receive what NCDOI comes up with," Furman said.

But it was an Oct. 17, 2012, cease and desist order from the Appalachian District Health Department -- not the building code violations -- that forced the preserve to close, citing new structures not updated on the preserve's primitive camp permit application and the need to improve some septic systems.

Andy Blethen, environmental health supervisor for the health department, was not immediately available for an update as of presstime. Speaking last December, Blethen said, "If we can get some correspondence, most of these can be taken care of pretty quickly."