By Jesse Wood
March 1, 2013. Last week, staff from the N.C. Department of Insurance Engineering & Codes Division drove up the mountain to meet with members of the Watauga County Planning and Inspections and Appalachian District Health Department to discuss issues surrounding the closure of Turtle Island Preserve.
Eustace Conway, founder of Turtle Island Preserve, was present for the four-hour long meeting and sounded discouraged when he talked about the Feb. 20 meeting.
“I came out of it appalled with Watauga County,” Conway said on Friday afternoon. “We hardly got anywhere. It seems like it took us four hours to go over the word, ‘No.’”
Amidst a swath of hundreds of acres, Turtle Island Preserve is a primitive refuge offering educational camps and internships to those young and old. However in October, County Attorney Four Eggers sent Conway a “ceast and desist” letter from offering food, lodging and primitive camp activities. The health department cited Turtle Island Preserve for numerous outhouse violations, and building inspectors found more than 20 buildings without permits.
Conway has maintained that the point of the camp is to be primitive and that means foregoing such things as the modern-day building codes and regulations. Conway has also said that officials have already permitted many of those buildings, which county officials contest.
Although Conway is “appalled” with local officials and has strong words for them, he has become fond of those at the state level.
Chris Noles, engineering and codes deputy commissioner, and Barry Gupton, engineering and codes chief code consultant/manager, came down from the NCDOI Engineering and Codes Division in Raleigh.
“They came and they are working on encouraging the Watauga County government to see the light, you might say,” Conway said. “They made a strong commitment to help get Turtle Island back and operating again and they are meeting absolute resistance from the county.”
Noles and Gupton weren’t available for comment, however Marni Schribman, a spokesman with the N.C. Department of Insurance, wrote in an email that staff with the Engineering and Codes Division have been continually working with county officials and Turtle Island Preserve “in an effort to re-open” the preserve.
“As a result of that meeting, Department of Insurance staff intend to present code modifications to the Building Code Council next week that would address primitive construction and camping facilities, giving county code officials greater flexibility for the types of buildings where modern amenities are not wanted or expected,” Schribman wrote on Friday.
Andrew Blethen, the environmental health supervisor for ADHD, and John Jones, a code enforcement officer with WCP&I, also attended the meeting. Neither could be reached on Friday.
Joe Furman, the director of WCP&I, said that he wasn’t sure what “greater flexibility” exactly meant.
“Greater flexibility would certainly be nice. It would be helpful,” Furman said. “But that’s shooting in the dark because I don’t know what that will be.”
He also added that it takes a year for the building code to be amended.
“What do I do for the interim?” Furman asked. “I am counting on the Department of Insurance to let me know that as well.”
The State Building Code Council is scheduled to meet on March 11.
Peruse the articles below for much more details about the current issues surrounding Eustace Conway and Turtle Island Preserve: