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September 20, 2014

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As weather warms, frustration over closed pools rises

Health District tries to assuage concerns at public meeting but contractors say solutions aren’t viable

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Richard Brian

Mike Heiney, owner and operator of Westside pools, compares an old pool drain cover, left, with one of the new anti-entrapment pool drain covers designed to prevent deaths. The law requires that all pools and spas have drain covers installed and a second anti-entrapment system added when there is only a single main drain.

Pools and spas

An old pool drain cover, right, is seen next to a new anti-entrapment pool drain covers designed to prevent death. The law requires that all pools and spas to have drain covers installed and a second anti-entrapment system added when there is only a single main drain. Launch slideshow »

The timetable for reopening public pools and spas that needed upgrades to comply with a new federal regulation remained murky after a public meeting Wednesday at the Southern Nevada Health District.

The Virginia Graeme Baker Act went into effect in December, requiring all public pools to be outfitted with anti-entrapment drain covers and other safety devices. It is named for the granddaughter of former Secretary of State James Baker, who died in 2002 at age 7 when she was pinned to the bottom of a hot tub by a drain.

Though the Health District does not have the ability to enforce the law — that rests with the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission — Nevada law requires the district to approve remodeling jobs done on public pools, so pools that have work done to comply with the act must be inspected and approved by the district.

But community managers of apartments, condominiums and homeowners associations have been frustrated by the district's waiting list for inspections, which is more than three months behind, and entered the meeting hoping to learn of a system to expedite the process.

Last month, dozens of community managers descended on the Board of Health's regular meeting to state their case and ask for permission to reopen their pools, if the work has been done by a licensed contractor, and provisionally operate them until the district's health inspectors can arrive.

But after more than three hours of presentations and questions, community managers said the process hasn't gotten anywhere.

"I feel like we're still on square one and we have not moved," said Brenda Lovato, regional property manager with property management firm GSC.

Glenn Savage, environmental health director for the district, said the district tried to speed things up by providing a form that the property manager and pool contractor could sign to certify that the work was properly done, which would then allow them to reopen the pool.

Pool contractors, however, said the form was unreasonable because it required contractors to certify that the pool is in compliance with the Baker Act as well as Nevada regulations, which they said are incompatible.

"The whole problem is that state law does not coincide with the VGB Act and that's what has put the Southern Nevada Health District in a bind," said contractor Joe Blockovich of Community Pools and Spas of Nevada.

Savage said contractors have also expressed concern that the form would increase their liability, so the district is trying to craft a new form with different language.

He said the district has done its best to adjust to a difficult situation and address the concerns of all sides.

"It's basically overwhelming for everyone," Savage said. "Be it the contractors, be it the community mangers, be it us. There are 4,200 (public) pools and spas in our community, and to look at them all is a big job."

Lovato said the meeting was helpful for understanding the Baker Act and the technical aspect of bringing a pool in compliance, but she said she was frustrated that it failed to answer the big question: when can a pool reopen?

As the temperatures climbed into the 80s Wednesday afternoon, she said the issue becomes more pressing every day.

"Every one of my employees have told me that when they're out walking the property, the first thing they hear out of the mouths of every resident is, 'When are my pools and spas going to be open?'" Lovato said.

Savage said the new expeditious program should be ready in the near future and thinks it should meet the concerns. He said he flipped through a few of the permit inspections in the district's backlog and found several that could be fast tracked under the new program.

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