By Jesse Wood
Dec. 11, 2012. Eustace Conway of Turtle Island Preserve, the 1,000-acre site that closed to the public in October, spoke before the N.C. Building Code Council on Monday morning hoping to appeal building code violations that were issued by the department of Watauga County Planning and Inspections.
After Conway discussed his traditional way of life at the preserve and briefly mentioned the historic construction methods used to build those buildings in question during his presentation, members of the N.C. Building Code Council unanimously voted to direct staff to “study the issue and find a solution,” according to Kerry Hall, public information officer with the N.C. Department of Insurance, which houses the N.C. Building Code Council.
Hall said that NCDOI staff has already been in contact with Conway and the local inspectors to learn more about the violations, adding that this is still the “information-gathering stage.”
“I think at this point the staff is trying to learn more about what happened on the inspection side and are looking at the codes to determine a good solution,” Hall said. “It’s hard to tell with these things what we can do.”
Council Member J. Albert Bass Jr., a mechanical engineer out of Raleigh, said he received so many emails from supporters of Conway in the past few weeks that he had to filter his email. (An online petition created by a supporter of Turtle Island Preserve has received more than 10,000 signatures and directed folks to contact members of the N.C. Building Code Council.)
Bass added that he was “sympathetic” to Conway’s cause, however as a council member, his hands are tied.
“[Conway and his supporters] have a distorted version of what we can do. There’s no way in the world we can tell a local inspector down there to stay the hell off of your property,” Bass said. “There’s no way in the world we can render a decision which affects one person different from another. We can’t exempt someone from the code.”
The best solution for Conway, Bass said, would be to appeal to a legislator to come up with a classification for primitive structures that would exempt Turtle Island Preserve and any other similar entities from the building code.
“I think he could get the legislator to deal with him,” Bass said. “It might take a little bit of doing, a little bit of lobbying.”
Realizing the N.C. Building Code Council’s reach, council members had already notified N.C. Sen. Dan Soucek, who spent two hours with Conway at Turtle Island Preserve last week.
“[Property rights] is one of the things I was interested in. What someone does on their own land and having a great deal of flexibility, allowing people to live the lifestyle they want to live,” Soucek said. “I think property rights and personal freedoms are issues at stake here.”
Soucek said he is still in the “information-gathering” stage, but at first glance, he sensed that Conway’s vision of living a primitive way of life not much different from centuries-old ancestors in the mountains could possibly work with compromises, adjustments “from both sides” – unless something egregious is found.
He said that Conway’s track record of no injuries or illnesses in 26 years “says an awful lot” and that legislation exempting Turtle Island Preserve from the modern rules and policies is one avenue to tackle the dispute.
Conway could not be reached on Tuesday to talk about yesterday’s N.C. Building Code Council meeting.
For more information to this story, read a previous High Country Press article that goes into detail with the violations, Turtle Island Preserve and Eustace Conway’s vision: www.hcpress.com/news/turtle-island-story.html